If the people you manage do not believe that what they do has a tangible, positive impact, what do they believe? You might have heard that hope is not a strategy; the truth in management is that without hope any team will lack motivation and resilience. When you remember that hope is something you do – not something you find – you can become more systematic in developing your team’s ability to hope.
Genuine hope is the choice to act as though good things are possible and actions will have meaningful results. Every business plan, every goal or objective is a sign of hope at work. Hope is not always supported by the facts: we all face times when the economic climate or conditions in our market or workplace make the goals we formulate (or are given) seem impossible to achieve. Such situations wear away at our incentive to dive in and explore the possibilities. They demoralize teams and eat away at productivity. Hope is the antidote to frightening circumstances.
How can you help your team to develop or sustain hope, particularly during times when they are regularly subjected to doom-and-gloom scenarios or tough realities? Like any other skill, hope needs to be practiced intentionally and consistently until it becomes an automatic reaction. It’s useful to begin with small acts of hope. Train your own attention to notice what you want and respond to it with appreciation: notice evidence, comment on it, and express positive feelings about it. Your team will be primed by difficult situations to look for evidence that you don’t really believe that they can achieve what they need to achieve.The discipline here is to train your attention to find genuine positives and to be honestly appreciative:
A second powerful strategy for developing and sustaining hope is to tell stories that emphasize the ability to survive difficulties. These are not always success stories; sometimes the fact that you have lived to tell the tale is success enough to demonstrate that meaning and strength come from improbable sources. Sometimes you will want to tell stories of experiences that are real but improbable – the kind of stories where people say, “that must be true because no one would make it up and expect to be believed.” You will find that you and the people you know have had many experiences that fall into this category. It will be easy to find an appropriate story to show that improbable things do happen.
What if your team is experiencing such trauma that even improbable stories only reinforce the idea that the next surprise might be even worse than what they know now? If you want to create hope, begin by sitting with your people and helping them to talk about the current situation. The worst part of a situation is often that it generalizes; we go from knowing one bad thing has happened to expecting that everything that happens will be bad. The way to counter this is, paradoxically, to focus on what is real. The clearer the focus, the more likely it is that even the current situation contains reason for hope. You will only uncover these reasons through attentive listening. Being heard feels good, so forming the connection wins the first ground for hope.
Once you recognize even small cause for believing that one good thing might happen (or for noticing that something bad that has happened at least makes sense), you can begin to draw out your team’s attention to the evidence that small good things (and then bigger good things) are possible. As you train your own attention, you will be training their attention. They will become better at identifying opportunities because you expect them to find opportunities (there should be no difference between what you genuinely expect and what you tell them expect). As you discipline yourself to listen until you find seeds of hope, you will also be teaching your team to find what they need to be motivated to produce the results you all want.
Hope is too important to leave to chance. If you don’t have an active strategy for developing and maintaining hope in your team, you have no way to motivate them when circumstances are truly difficult and you have no incentives to offer for further growth when things are good. Current research confirms what we all have learned in our own experience: the most effective rewards are intrinsic to the work itself. A strategy for hope gives you a way to make stress more tolerable, to develop workable goals in difficult times, to develop resilience and to strengthen productivity. You won’t have to hope for the results; you will be able to see them.
About the author
Linda Ferguson, Ph.D. is a senior partner at NLP Canada Training Inc. in Toronto, Canada. With her partner, Chris Keeler, Linda develops training that allows people to experience stronger integrity and better results. Clients experience rapid, sustainable change and long-term learning about how their thinking drives success. On Sept 19/20 2009 NLP Canada Training is hosting the HOPE Symposium, a gathering of NLP-trained coaches, consultants and others who deliberately promote hope in themselves and others. Find out more by visiting the Hope Symposium site at http://www.relaxedandready.ca or by visiting NLP Canada Training at http://www.nlpcanada.com