Managers don’t necessarily have the budget or staff they need or want, but they do have an infinite resource—their own hope and the hopeful thinking of their followers. Your hope for the future can make hope happen for the people who work for you.
Employees need your hope, according to the 2008 Gallup study Why People Follow. More than 10,000 U.S. adults were asked to identify the most influential leader in their lives and to describe what that person gives to them. Hope, compassion, stability and trust were the most common attributes cited.
To give employees hope, become an expert on what hope is. Hopeful people don’t waste time wishing. They actively invest in the future. They have an unshakeable belief that the future will be better than the present, and they devise plans and work to make it so.
The power to make the future better is not magical. It comes from having multiple strategies for making your business better and from being persistent in your efforts. You don’t dole it out like praise. You model hope and create the conditions others need to be hopeful.
When managers help employees see that the future will be better and that they have a role in making it so, employees show up and work harder and smarter. The results are almost immediate.
For instance, Gallup asked followers whether their leader at work—typically a manager—demonstrated this hallmark of hope: enthusiasm for the future. Of those who said yes, 69 percent were engaged in their work, scoring high on a measure of involvement in and excitement about work. These engaged workers are the products of hopeful leadership. They are more innovative and productive than others, and more likely to be with the company for the long haul.
Of those followers who said their leader did not make them enthusiastic about the future, a mere 1 percent were committed and energized at work. These disengaged workers are threats to the business, their co-workers and themselves. They fail to make meaningful contributions, undermine the hard work of others, and are more likely to be physically and mentally unhealthy. In addition, it is somewhat likely that they won’t be with the company one year later.
Being hopeful translates to the bottom line. In a study of supervisors at a national fast-food restaurant group, Suzanne Peterson, a business professor at the University of Arizona, asked franchise managers to rank themselves on a scale from low hope to high hope. Then, with the help of corporate staff who did not know the managers’ scores, Peterson paired data on each franchise’s profitability with the manager’s hope level. The study, “Exploring the Role of Hope in Job Performance,” which was published in the 2008 Journal of Organizational Behavior, found that high-level hope supervisors recorded more profits and less turnover than low-level ones.
Some people may be more hopeful by nature, but any manager in any industry sector can spread hope and motivate others in concrete ways. Here’s how:
Create and sustain excitement about the future. If you aspire to lead with hope, every message you share with followers should be meaningful and fear-free. Meetings, texts, e-mails, tweets, reports, speeches and interviews must communicate hope, trust and stability. When fear infects the words of a leader, it can make employees doubt their commitment. Auditing messages for hope and fear can help keep employees engaged.
Creating and maintaining excitement for the future doesn’t mean filling messages with exclamation marks, smiley faces and goofy emoticons. A hopeful message is serious, straightforward and engaging. It communicates realistically how the future will be better, that every recipient has a role in making it happen, and that the path to the future requires everyone’s commitment and effort.
Knock down obstacles to goals, and don’t put up new ones. Managers lose influence when they make their employees’ lives harder. Hopeful leaders make employees’ lives better and easier. View the workplace from your employees’ perspective to uncover the procedures and policies you need to change or eliminate.
Adjust goals when circumstances demand it. You may need to change course after spending days, months or years convincing others that you were on the right path. In the face of insurmountable odds, some people delude themselves and others and cling to unrealistic goals. Other leaders—the ones we want to follow—guide followers toward choices that balance rational and emotional interests.
Employees look to leaders to capitalize on the spirit and ideas of the times, to dream big, and to motivate them toward a meaningful future. Your hope is a resource for tackling problems faced at work and sparking growth even when times are hard.
Shane Lopez, Ph.D., is a senior scientist at Gallup Inc. and the author of Making Hope Happen (Atria Books, 2013).