Martin Luther King, Jr. said it well, “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope” (Nguyen, 2020). In the face of the pandemic of our lifetime, the preservation of hope is a crucial strategy for navigating a much-changed future.
The impact of the pandemic to our health systems cannot be understated or overemphasized. In some states and regions, the disruption of care delivery is hard to fathom, as some areas are entirely overwhelmed with both lack of supplies and caregivers. Hopelessness would be a final fatal blow to our ability to recover and reframe a new and better future. In their book, Building Resilience With Appreciative Inquiry, McArthur-Blair and Cockell (2018) describe hope as essential to resilience, “Hope arises precisely within those moments when hopelessness or despair seem just as likely” (p. 52). In describing the generative force of hope, McArthur-Blair and Cockell listed 10 elements for leaders to recognize and embrace:
Hope and leadership.
Hope as practice.
Hope is a meta-outcome of appreciative inquiry.
Leaders are part of something bigger than themselves.
The practice of hope is not automatic or easy.
Hope is not always about the here and now.
Deciding what to focus on matters.
Advocating for what you deeply care about is an intrinsic part of hope.
Knowing that leadership has a rhythm of growth and loss holds one to hope.
The practice of hope in times of change matters.
The Practice of Hope Is Not Automatic or Easy
The elements are somewhat self-explanatory, but this discussion focuses on two of them. First, the practice of hope requires focused effort and attention. The quote from Margaret Wheatley's book describes it best: “It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out” (Wheatley, 2004, p. 252). This interpretation reframes hope not as mindless optimism but rather as a deeper, more thoughtful cognitive process of making sense and finding sense in events that seem senseless. It also requires leaders to be intentional in evaluating their own hopefulness and being transparent in conveying how they came to have hope while immersed in similarly despairing circumstances.
Hope is a construct of resilience that is emphasized through self-analysis and self-disclosure of personal struggles and outcomes. It helps teams see the humanity and the thoughtfulness that the practice of hope requires. This demands courage from leaders and a willingness to be open and mindful of the trap of Pollyanna-type optimism that can unintentionally undermine the development of grounded, sustainable hopefulness.
Advocating for What You Deeply Care About Is an Intrinsic Part of Hope
As the quote by Dr. Martin Luther King above illustrates, goal orientation and a sense of agency are crucial elements of hope. Many dark days both physically and emotionally characterized the early civil rights movement, yet the central figure of that movement retained hope. Advocacy and passion are copilots of hope. With a strong set of beliefs, the process of making sense of situations (a precursor of hope) is navigated more easily. It is the method of watching the horizon while navigating the now and keeping the focus on both so as not be become overwhelmed by current circumstances. Passionate belief in a goal or attainment can serve as a buffer against day-to-day disappointments. These beliefs concurrently foster self-efficacy and agency in traversing from the now to the next.
What Is a Professional Development Leader To Do?
Hope and change are intertwined. The very change, a new future or new reality, depends on hope to achieve its outcomes. In some cases, change may be considered optional and can be rescheduled or restructured against competing priorities or time lines, but in the case of a pandemic or other disaster, change is a certainty. Change without hope may seem insurmountable.
Developing the practice of hope is a survival skill for leaders who will be leading unexpected and far-reaching change. The practice of hope requires focus and intentionality. Hope is not optimism, and it is not a strategy. That said, hope is a valuable skill asset that can be developed and conveyed to others to lift and improve the experiences of teams who may be reeling from external impacts.
Hope can be strengthened through cognitive pathway development and concurrent viewing of the now and the horizon of the future. This is the big difference between hope and optimism. Hope is a navigational tool fueled by strong beliefs and self-efficacy. When leaders lead from hope versus optimism, they are able to connect with team members in a more authentic and personal way.
Professional development leaders can bring more powerful leadership to difficult situations by helping others to understand development of hope skills and by emphasizing ways to extend and expand the practice of hope. Leaders can do this by encouraging reflection about how and why hope matters on an individual basis. What are the barriers to believing there is hope in a situation? How might those barriers be reframed or thought about differently? How might each leader share what they have learned about the power of hope and how it has helped them to navigate difficult situations?
Leadership tools can come in unusual packages. Hope is as important a leadership tool as is project management, financial management, and innovation. Leaders who cannot effectively employ hope as a tool to navigate challenging situations may well find themselves with no one to lead.