Career Coach: The importance of hope

August 4, 2013

“What is true of the individual will be tomorrow true of the whole nation if individuals will but refuse to lose heart and hope.” —Mahatma Gandhi

The University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business recently hosted the Leadership Education and Development program for diverse and highly talented high school seniors from around the country. In my session on leadership, I was truly impressed by the curiosity and willingness these young people (17-year-olds) had to really understand and learn what makes an effective leader. Their questions were refreshingly positive — seeking to understand so that they could make a stronger impact on others as they moved into leadership positions in their high schools, colleges and beyond. Most of them were moving into roles as presidents, treasurers, vice presidents and captains of their clubs, sports teams and volunteer organizations. They didn’t want to be ordinary; they wanted to make a difference.

They asked questions about how to deal with difficult co-workers or bosses, how to handle failures and mistakes, how to deal with obstacles and personality clashes, among others. What was refreshing was that they believed they could positively impact the outcomes. In other words, they were open to learning, and they had hope and optimism in the future, and in their own potential impact.

Two senior executives that I invited to the session — Donna Blackman, senior vice president of BET Networks, and Amadou Cissé, director of management consulting at SE Solutions — were equally impressed by the questions directed toward them about leadership. They could see that these high school students had bold visions for the future, where people would be valued for their diverse and unique contributions.

What really struck me is that sometimes younger people have such greater hope in the future than more experienced folks. I think sometimes, as older or more experienced employees, we lose some of our sense of optimism in the future. We might even forget the potential impact that we can have on the lives of others. Yet, this is so important — for our own happiness and for the satisfaction of those around us.

Some researchers suggest hopeful companies tend to be more creative and innovative, and make greater investments in employees than those that are not. As a result, employees in these positive and hopeful cultures are more engaged at work and more persistent in trying to reach goals. Employees who are hopeful are likely to be more motivated to initiate a task, and are better equipped to envision alternative paths to achieve those goals, resulting in higher performance.

Here are some of the ways you can help make your workplace feel more positive about the future:

Build employee engagement. Gallup researchers identified three items that make up their Hope Index, which can be used to describe employee engagement at work. These items included:

I know I will be an important part of this organization in the future.

At work, I set clear, meaningful goals and accomplish them.

I can figure out a way to solve almost any problem at my workplace.

Hope can be nurtured by helping employees to feel a part of the organization, by establishing goals that are meaningful to all members, and by providing the support and/or training such that employees see a way to solve problems.

Share a dream or vision for the future. Employees need to feel a sense of mission and direction for the future of the firm, and their own future role in the firm.

Show respect to all employees. Respect in the workplace needs to be promoted for all levels of workers. Healthy companies will foster hope among their employees by being concerned with their individuality and creativity.

Encourage a holistic view of employees. People are not just workers. They have lives, too. Leaders need to understand that employees need some balance in their work-family lives. They need to be able to handle their stress with exercise, hobbies, family and leisure time. This recharges them, allowing their hope and optimism to grow.

Make sure roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Not knowing what they are required to do, how they are evaluated, when projects are due are all stressors and can be related to pessimism and hopelessness.

Recognize and reward employees. It is important for employees to know how they are doing, and to feel part of the celebrations when things are going well.

Provide social support. During times of stress, high hope people rely on their friends and family for help and reassurance. It follows then, that hopeful workers will need to rely on their peers and supervisors for guidance, assistance, and emotional support.

Hope is important for the workplaces of today and the future. We should try to learn from the Leadership Education and Development high school seniors and keep our sense of hope and optimism for the future.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” — Albert Einstein

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