Leading Through Uncertainty: Engender Hope And Optimism

Leading Through Uncertainty: Engender Hope And Optimism

These days are filled with uncertainty. How are you supposed to stand up and show strong leadership when the world seems to be falling all around you? If you feel confused, imagine what your people are going through!

One of the many important things to strive for is engendering optimism while your troops are feeling left out. It is difficult to march on when your team can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. You understand that their motivation is ready to take a dive to the bottom of the pool. As their manager, their motivator, their leader, you must step up and break ground so they have an easier path to follow.

Your team really needs to see you shine during these challenging times — that’s what leadership is all about. When the going gets tough, the tough get going! Stop giving platitudes that fall flat and insincere on the defeated mood of your normally enthusiastic group and get on the fast train.

What your team is looking for isn’t the normal playground pep talk. They are eyeing you for extraordinary leadership in perplexing times. It’s no surprise then that in a Gallup Workplace article, we discover that employees, as followers, have four primary needs of their leaders: trust, compassion, stability and hope. They’re all critical, all the time and since the outbreak of Covid-19, hope is more valuable than it’s ever been. Because hope is what will get us through this.

As a leader, you may be so busy trying to coordinate solutions to workplace difficulties related to Covid-19 that you feel like working on hope is the last thing you can focus on. If you can’t even get the technology department to fix the intermittent problems with the server that connects your entire work team, when can you get around to engendering team hope? The team’s only hope is probably that you get the server functional.

Harvard Health Publishing, in an article Hope: Why it Matters, would disagree with you. They argue that hope is important for acknowledging that there can be good moments even under undesirable circumstances. It promotes optimism and serenity. Who doesn’t need that?

While exploring the institutional promotion of hope and optimism, author Oliver Bennett finds it to be a significant cultural phenomenon, whether that institution is a corporation, a small business or even a family. In his book Cultures of Optimism: The Institutional Promotion of Hope, he explains, “The diverse ways in which the concept of optimism has been constructed within these domains are also reviewed. But despite these differences, what divergent cultures of optimism are shown to have in common is a shared ‘form’ of positive expectation, which might be said to constitute a culture of optimism, in the singular.”

Our nation and our world have been through difficult and disrupting times before, and we will go through them again. During my work life, I’ve lived through massive layoffs, crises on Wall Street, recessions and massive technical hacks and ransoms that have shown business-demolishing potential. I’ve never found it helpful in any way to panic or give in to despair or anger. In fact, leaders I’ve observed in these situations who bravely stand up and ask productive questions are the ones who ultimately make a difference.

Fruitful questions can make a difference and engage the problem-solving skills of your coworkers. Direct your people and lead them through fear and inactivity to a state of conquering useless anxiety. Here are three tips for tackling that tall order:

• Define the problem and make it a manageable size — letting it turn into an unruly monster in our minds helps no one;

• Break it down into manageable steps;

• Prioritize each step and assign groups to work on one particular step of the solution at a time;

These are simple ways of redirecting negative energy into purpose. With purpose comes the hope and optimism to counteract the feelings of helplessness and being overwhelmed.

In his book, Relentless Optimism: How a Commitment to Positive Thinking Changes Everything, Darrin Donnelly points out, “Positive thinking leads to positive outcomes. Study after study proves this. Researchers have found that optimistic people live longer, live healthier, have more energy, have more successful careers, make better decisions, are more productive, are less stressed, have healthier relationships, and (not surprisingly) are much happier than pessimists.” Doesn’t that sound like a great outcome for a productive team? As their leader, all you have to do is provide the inspiration for the team, division or company optimism. If it sounds like too much work, you may not be the person for the job.

Your inspiration and enthusiasm will provide the fuel for the engine. Shoveling fuel into the firebox of your team’s train isn’t easy at first, but the more people you can convince to climb aboard, the more hands you’ll have to help you with the task.

This article has previously been featured on  Forbes.