Using Hope to Bring Out the Best in Others

After our recent Presidential election, millions of people are feeling excited and hopeful. But millions of others are feeling devastated and hopeless.

Of course, it would be easy to dismiss all those reactions as nothing more than feelings. But it would be a grave mistake to do so.

After all, the primary function of a leader (no matter who wins an election) is to keep hope alive. And I would add that is your job also … to keep hope alive … if you are a leader, manager, supervisor, or team coordinator … even if you’re a parent or a spouse.

When you learn how to do that, engagement, motivation, and relationship quality go through the roof.

I’ve found three things that you can use to instill hope in others. And what better time to use them than right now, when a New Year is upon us?


1. Recognize the Power of Hope.


King Frederick, the head of the Holy Roman Empire during the 13th century, didn’t. He had to learn the hard way.

He wondered what language babies would speak if no one ever spoke to them. So he conducted a most unusual experiment. He gathered together a large number of babies and told their caretakers to feed and clothe the babies, but they were never allowed to speak to them.

Of course, King Frederick never learned the answer to his question. All of the babies died. Human beings cannot live without some form of recognition or some sense of hope.

The same is true in the business world. Even though employees may not “die” physically in a negative, hopeless work environment, they’ll certainly die motivationally. In a study by William M. Mercer, Inc., and reported in Compensation and Benefits Review, 25% of the workers said they were capable of doing 50% more work.

So why don’t they? They lacked hope. They didn’t feel their contribution was wanted or rewarded. In particular, almost a third of the respondents gave three reasons for not doing more:

  1. they weren’t involved in the decision making,
  2. the workers weren’t rewarded for good performance, and
  3. they saw no opportunity for advancement.

What’s it like in your organization? Is everyone filled with hope and enthusiasm? Is everyone on fire, giving 120%? Or do you have some people that are just getting by? If you answered the latter, if you’ve got some less than fully productive people on your team, you may be in the midst of a crisis–a crisis of hope.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking those people are just plain unmotivated, that nothing will ever motivate them. No! People are always motivated. They’re always motivated to do something, maybe not what you want them to do, but they’re still motivated.

If you ever think certain employees aren’t motivated, just watch them head for the parking lot at 4:30 in the afternoon or get up at 3:00 a.m. for a fishing trip. You’ll see lots of motivation. As one person told me, maybe there’s something to this reincarnation theory, judging by the way some people come back to life at quitting time.

Once you recognize the power of hope, you instill more of it when you…


2. Cheer People On.


Tom Malone, president of Milliken and Company, made that quite clear. He said:

“I played football in college. Wasn’t very big–only 150 pounds–and I wasn’t very good. I got hurt a lot – I broke my arm once, my neck once, and my nose six times. When I tell people about it, they always ask me, ‘Why did you keep doing it?’ For the longest time I had no answer. Then one day it hit me. If there hadn’t been any fans in the stands cheering me on–my family and friends– I wouldn’t have kept on playing and trying so hard. But there were, so I did.”

Did you get Tom’s last point? He kept on trying to get better and better as long as people cheered him on. As long as others believed in him. As long as others kept instilling hope in him.

If you’ve got people in your life, it’s your job to keep their hope alive. You’re the cheering fans in the stands for your teammates, your employees, your customers, your friends, and your family members.

Of course, not everything can and should be cheered. I am not advocating denial, that you should pretend that someone’s behavior is perfect when it is not. There are times you need to…


3. Correct a Little.


It’s what Pope John XXIII advised. Even though he was a most unlikely “management consultant,” he was right on when he wrote, “See everything, overlook a lot, and correct a little.”

For the sake of brevity, I’ll assume you do quite well on the Pope’s first two suggestions. Most people do. It’s the third area where I see too many people kill off the hope in others. They correct too many faults at the same time.

By contrast, look at how a golf pro teaches. When a person comes to him for lessons, he may have four or five basic flaws in his swing. All of these flaws will eventually need to be corrected if he expects to hit the ball well.

However, if the golf pro told his student about all of his flaws at once, the student would probably feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Instead, the pro points out one or two of the most glaring errors. As the student corrects those and begins to hit the ball better, he’s encouraged to keep on learning more to get better and better. Then the pro gives him something else to work on.

The same is true in business. When you want people to learn new skills, it works best to work on one thing at a time. Then you watch for every opportunity to praise their progress.

As the old saying goes, “Nothing succeeds like success.” Success is a great motivator. When employees master one step and are praised for doing so, it spurs them on to the next skill they need to master.

As you “correct a little,” as you give your feedback, make sure you use tact. So much of the time, the hope you build or kill in others is not so much a function of what you say but how you say it.

Baltasar Gracian wrote, “Cultivate tact, for it is the work of culture…the lubricant of human relationships, softening contacts and minimizing friction.” He’s right.

The ancient Muslims used to tell a story to illustrate the importance of tact. A sultan called in one of his seers and asked how long he would live. “Sire,” said the fortune teller, “you will live to see all your sons dead.” The sultan flew into a rage and handed the fortune teller over to his guards to be executed.

He then called for a second seer and asked him the same question. “Sire,” said this fortune teller, “I see you blessed with long life, so long that you will outlive all your family.” The sultan was delighted and rewarded the fortune teller with gold and silver.

Obviously, both of the seers said the same thing. But one had tact; the other did not.

It’s not good enough to have “truth” on your side. You’ve got to know how to communicate it as well. Then, and only then, will you keep people’s hope alive, and then, and only then, will they give all that they are capable of giving.

Final Thought: Never deprive someone of hope. It may be all he has.