On my recent trip to San Francisco, I was flipping through the in-flight entertainment system and discovered Alicia Keys’ Landmark Live concert in New York. The journey ahead was long and I was looking for something to entertain — but not distract — me while I worked.
At the very end of the docu-concert (a documentary of a concert), she starts talking about her number one hit, “Empire State of Mind”. It’s one of my favourite Keys songs; I’ve always found the lyrics energising and there’s one verse in particular that never ceases to inspire me. It describes New York as a “concrete jungle where dreams are made”, and expresses the uplifting nature of the city and the opportunity it offers: “There’s nothin’ you can’t do, Now you’re in New York. These streets will make you feel brand new. Big lights will inspire you.”
I used to think I enjoyed the song so much because I love New York. To me, the city is filled with energy and epitomises scale. But, as I listened to Keys talk, I finally understood the real reason I love the song: it’s all about hope.
As it turns out, this was a revelation even to her. In the docu-concert, Alicia Keys explains that she wrote the song as an ode to the Big Apple and that she was surprised to find fans at a Paris concert singing the lyrics at the top of their lungs. It was then that she realised why the song resonates with an international audience; it is not just about the city, but the hope that it represents. Simply put, New York gives people a chance.
In my book “Leadership Dubai Style”, I say the same about Dubai. It represents hope. The aim of the Dubai government is to create a place where others can succeed. Just as New York once welcomed people looking for a new life, Dubai welcomes those who are chasing an opportunity.
With this backdrop in my mind, listening to Keys made me think about the role of a leader, and I reached a conclusion: in the same way that the New Yorks and Dubais of this world offer inspiration and opportunity to so many, business leaders, too, can be bearers of hope.
As corporate leaders, it’s easy to dismiss hope because it seems mystic or soft — but it’s not! It is a really powerful motivator and represents the deep desire for something to happen. In the workplace, hope is a rally flag that motivates employees to push their limits and achieve more than they ever thought possible. Without it, the push for more is replaced with complacent acceptance.
But beware: giving hope is very different to relying on it. As a leader, you should never find comfort in the hope that people will do what is expected — those who do will be gravely disappointed. Instead be a hope builder; show your team members what they can achieve when they believe.
Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes, and even if you’re not an optimist by nature, you can still build it in your team. To do so, you will need to appeal to their logic.
When they say the glass is half-empty, show them it is also half-full, and explain that the empty half is where the opportunity lies.
You’ll also need to appeal to people’s emotions. Given the inherent risk that accompanies many an opportunity, fear often keeps an employee from embracing hope. With this in mind, building it is not purely a rational exercise.
Hope is a desire wrapped in confidence, so you must work to instill that confidence within your team.
Like New York, great leaders are dream builders. And, like Dubai, they create places where others can thrive. Don’t trample on hope, nurture it and let it blossom — show your employees that success can be theirs if they dare to dream.
Tommy Weir is the CEO of the EMLC Leadership Ai Lab and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.