“He’s going to deliver this time...”
“We’ll achieve the targets...”
Both of those statements are often followed by an unspoken “I hope”. Specifically, the hope you feel when someone hasn’t delivered as they should’ve in the past, but you’re sure that it’ll be different this time. But why do you think it’ll be different?
I’m shocked by how many leaders rely on hope. Hope is nothing more than a desire for positive outcomes. There is no surety in it at all, but for some reason leaders are willing to put their comfort into a word whose synonyms include: wish, expect, dream, daydream, even pipedream.
Leadership hope is one of the leadership diseases. Over my years of studying leaders, I’ve observed a number of behaviours that I call leadership diseases. I’m contemplating writing a book about them some day.
These are not medical conditions, rather they are leader behavioural disorders that are routinely repeated. For example, leaders who put their faith in the ideal that the future can be different from the past without doing anything differently.
That is the disease I’m calling leadership hope. It’s a naive false hope.
Hope can be very beneficial as it’s a state of mind encased in optimism. Being hopeful is the positive path that you should choose, but it’s not sufficient. Hope needs to be combined with a determined plan for reaching your outcomes.
In the famed children’s book, which incidentally was one of my doctoral texts, ‘The Little Engine that Could’, the toys never gave up hope. But they didn’t sit ideally by hoping that things would be different, they kept working while hoping. Then when they found the little blue engine, which didn’t deserve hope, they hoped anyhow. And it hoped saying: “I think I can, I think I can” until it did.
For hope to be beneficial, it needs a pathway to achieve your goals. This is where most leaders get infected with the disease leadership hope. They hope things will be different this time, but fail to find a different path.
They fail to take performance character into consideration. Blindly believing in hope is foolish.
As a simple example, if one of your team members missed a deadline, what gives you confidence that he won’t again, unless it was a rare exception? Employees are generally predictable. If you want to know what they will do, see what they have done.
Until there is a catalyst, what was is what will be. The fallacy in leadership hope is that change will naturally happen.
All of a sudden, they’ll be different, behaviourally, delivery-wise and in their performance character. Reality says leadership hope doesn’t cause the difference.
Having hope without knowing what they’ll do differently leaves you vulnerable for disappointment, the displeasure caused by the non-fulfilment of your hopes. Your hope needs evidence.
You know what your employees will do, how they will behave and perform. So, your hope needs to be in the evidence of the change of a pattern if you want to see a different result.
My youngest son has crafted the ability to identify what could go wrong in any situation. While my hope is that he’ll put that into balance by seeing the positive, I can’t have comfort in my hope. It’s a false hope without a different path. While working with him, he’s recently started catching himself when he does and attempting to replace it with what he needs to do to see the positive.
Now, I have hope based upon evidence — of him behaving differently.
Before you place your hope in someone, especially if they didn’t behave or deliver as expected, ask yourself, “What has changed that is giving you hope?”.
Many leaders just hope that another iteration will have a different result. But it rarely does.
It’s understandable why it’s so tempting to hope that the future will be different. But your hope needs to be accompanied with a pathway to get there.
Instead of relying on leadership hope, ask, “What am I basing my hope on?”. And then take action to be the catalyst to see your hope fulfilled (rather than a disappointment).
Dr Tommy Weir is a CEO coach and author of ‘Leadership Dubai Style’. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.