The year 2020 began as a sprint and quickly turned into a marathon. From the COVID-19 pandemic, nationwide social injustice marches, and the most perplexing election I’ve ever experienced, last year was all about navigating ambiguity, building resilience, and maintaining hope. Even though we are in a new year, the focus remains the same. It is in the midst of all of this turmoil and uncertainty that hope calls us to embrace it as part of our arsenal to successfully rise from a state of despair and lead with confidence.
What People Think Hope Is
When some people hear the word hope, the image of a wet noodle or a mere wish comes to mind. When you hear someone say, “well, I hope it works out for you,” you can sometimes pick up on the uncertainty in their voice, which may lead you to question whether they truly believe things will work out.
So, What Is Hope?
Hope is the ability to confidently trust, wait, and expect something good in the future. It is a confident forward-facing disposition that suggests that you have the will, determination, and strategies needed to reach your goals.1 So let’s look at this more closely. Hope is a confident expectation of good things; good means good, people, not bad. So if you are expecting something bad, it doesn’t align or fit with the definition of hope. Hope is also a key factor in developing resilience. No wishing and no noodles—just confidence moving forward.
What Is Resilience?
Before we continue our discussion on hope, we need to talk about resilience. Resilience “denotes a combination of abilities and characteristics that interact dynamically to allow an individual to bounce back, cope successfully, and function above the norm in spite of signiﬁcant stress or adversity.”2 Personally, I think we should look for more than a bounce back—we should expect to bounce forward. Hope is the thing that will get us there.
How to Lead with Hope
To lead with hope, we must cultivate an internal environment of hope. We typically lead and behave in ways that align with our dominant thoughts. This manifests itself in the things we do and say and influences our external environment. Chad (2020) noted that “People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives….”3 In essence, we need to lead ourselves first, then attempt to lead others. Stop for a moment and examine your thoughts. What thoughts are coming to your mind? Are they worth keeping?
Leaders should be aware of what is taking place with their employees. I’m not referring to micromanagement; I’m referring to connection. Take the time to know what matters to them and what is occurring in their world. I had a chief operating officer who would walk around to see how everyone was doing. It was a quick check-in, but I remember how it made me feel. I adopted the practice and began stepping out of my comfort zone to periodically walk through the building where I worked to say hello to my staff and colleagues.
As public sector leaders, we must also get proximate to what’s occurring in our communities, a point that Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, drives home. 4 We have to get proximate to understand the nuances and see the details of what is taking place in our communities.
One disservice that we sometimes do as government leaders is failing to introduce our new hires to their community. We walk them down the hall, we give them policies and procedures, and they get “teamed” and “zoomed,” but we fail to effectively acclimate them to the community they serve. Whether they are in human resources, park and recreation, or information technology, we need to connect the dots to the community—they must get proximate to know the people they are serving.
Create a Path Forward
There are several things we can do as leaders to create an environment of hope for ourselves and our teams:
• Monitor self-talk and make the mental adjustments necessary to maintain a hopeful mindset.
• Develop clear personal and professional goals.
• Engage your team members in creating a vision for the future and identifying the steps to get there.
• Build positive professional relationships and networks.
• Plan and juggle to achieve a more balanced life.
No matter how much we plan, if we don’t execute, then it is all for nothing. The road ahead will not always be clear, so we must take the next best brave step forward to navigate life and work. I will leave you with this: “It takes courage to stay hopeful in the midst of daunting situations, but it is hope that will save us.”5
JUNE MIGHTY is organizational and talent development division chief, Santa Barbara County, California. She is a multi-faceted and practical concrete thinker who is most powerful when pulling apart complex problems to figure out what is going on. She has an unwavering belief in success, and she is skilled at helping people to navigate the difficulties and obstacles that accompany change and transition.
Resources and Endnotes
1 Espinoza, M., Molinari, G., Etchemendy, E., Herrero, R., Botella, C., & Rivera, R. M. B. (2017). “Understanding Dispositional Hope in General and Clinical Populations,” Applied Research in Quality of Life, 12(2), 439–450, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-016-9469-4
2 Tusaie, K., & Dyer, J. (2004), “Resilience: An Historical Review of the Construct,” Holistic Nursing Practice, 18(1), 3-10, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-016-9469-4
3 Ford, C. (2020), “Dangerous Love: Transforming Fear and Conflict at Home, at Work, and in the World,” Berett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 33.
4 Stevenson, B. (2017, August), “Leading Through the Uncomfortable,” Global Leadership Summit.