Updates on the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports on the market’s volatility. Statements on local, state, and federal government responses. Skyrocketing unemployment. There is no shortage of sobering news fighting for our attention; and while we are all ordered to shelter in place and practice social distancing, the ensuing isolation only serves to create a feeling of doom and gloom.
As leaders, how do we counterbalance all of this?
We all know that hope is not a strategy. And by no means are we arguing otherwise. But hope is an antecedent to strategy, especially in times of crisis. When hope is rooted in realistic optimism (i.e., a belief that the future is positive based on the faith we have in our people, systems, and processes) and a determination to work things out, it leads to a solution-oriented mindset.
In her HBR blog post, “Hope Is a Strategy (Well, Sort Of),” Deborah Mills-Scofield writes, “Optimists are powerful for solving wicked problems, the ones pessimists say can’t be solved.” When we are optimistic about the future and not bogged down with fear and despair, we can use critical thinking/reasoning effectively to identify solutions we never thought existed. Challenges become energizing, and brainstorming around them becomes an activity that brings people together (even if done virtually).
Hope is what allows us to create a path forward for ourselves and our teams. Ken Chenault, the former CEO of American Express, lives by these words: “The role of a leader is to define reality and give hope.” (Chenault led the company through the dot-com crash, 9/11, and the financial crisis of 2008 to achieve tremendous success.) Demonstrating hope lifts people up and gives them something positive to anchor in, ultimately allowing them to commit and engage in the work at hand.
This is not the first time in the last few decades we have faced a crisis. As a nation, we emerged from those crises stronger and more focused. There is no reason to believe we can’t do it again. Of this, we are hopeful.