Hope is a generally misunderstood concept. I hope (see what I did there) to provide clarification to the necessity of hope in our lives, the lives of our employees and in our organization.
Hope is more than just a simple statement of belief. I used hope in the paragraph above in the way most people use it, as a general wish or desire for something to occur. “I hope I win the lotto.” “I hope I get that promotion.” “I hope life returns to normal soon.” “I hope Disneyland opens up in the near future.” These are all statements you may have heard at some point recently. I’m sure you can think of dozens more. Hope used in this way is a strong desire. This is great and important, but hoping is different from having hope.
The makeup of hope
Hope has two components, agency and pathways. The pathway component refers to the ability of a person to attain the goal. Someone with a clear path would be able to identify the steps required to reach the goal. For example, if you decided right now that you wanted to learn to make a New York style pizza, you could probably identify the steps fairly easily. You would need the right ingredients, the knowledge which can be acquired via the internet (there may even be a masterclass on this…), the practice, the time, the finances to buy more ingredients after you inevitably mess up on the first few trials (anyone else go through this or is it just me?). There is a clear path, for now at least. Once we start down the path we may discover some roadblocks, but for now it seems like there is a clear path.
Agency refers to one’s ability to choose the path. It can be related to one’s self-efficacy, or one’s confidence in being able to accomplish a task. Agency answers the question “Can I do that?” Sticking to the pizza example, we may decide that we cannot choose this path because we do not live in a place where we can get the ingredients, or we live in a small apartment that does not have an oven to cook the pizza. Or, in a rare and weird circumstance, you may not like pizza and therefore decide that there is no path that you would want to choose. That would be insanely weird though. I mean, who doesn’t like pizza?! (For those of you that think pizza is not great…agree to disagree…)
When a pathway is clear and a person is able to choose a path, something powerful happens inside the person. They start to use their resources to accomplish their goal. If it’s a goal they really want, they’ll ignore other “nonessential” goals in order to push harder. They’ll sacrifice resources from other areas in their lives in order to rededicate them to accomplishing their primary goal (Wright Brothers are a great example). They feel like their goal is ‘worth’ pushing for because they’re actually getting somewhere.
It is a sad scenario when people lose hope. They stop trying to excel. They decide to use the resources elsewhere, but sometimes they don’t know where. They stumble through life, lost, hopeless of attaining the goal they perceive they need. It can take awhile to find a new goal to dedicate resources. When women perceive a glass ceiling in the workplace, they lose hope that they’ll progress in the company. When this happens, women tend to stop trying to excel. They do the minimum in their job and go home. When an entrepreneur discovers that their venture is hopeless, often times the entrepreneur will “give up” or experience burnout-like symptoms. Losing hope can cause detrimental damage, but it is not irreversible.
When hope is lost…
To understand how to resolve a hopeless situation, it is important to understand why hope is lost. Referring to the entrepreneur above, he placed his house and his reputation on the line in order to acquire the finances to start his business. After experiencing financial ‘failure’ for eight straight months, he felt all was lost.
- Pathway – He had it all mapped out when he opened the store. He planned every month, had regular meetings and received guidance from people outside his company. He started off following his plan, then adjusted as he discovered road blocks, then adjusted again and again and again. None of the paths seemed to be working and he saw no other paths.
- Agency – He started to feel that maybe he shouldn’t have started the business. Maybe he wasn’t in the right place to start the business. Maybe he forced his will upon a hopeless situation and, therefore, found failure.
When everything seemed hopeless, things got dark for the entrepreneur. Family members, employees and customers all noticed the change. It was well documented by colorful and descriptive online reviews during this period in time. He wasn’t sleeping. The entrepreneur was frustrated at himself and everyone around him, but then, late one night, things turned around. He found hope.
The entrepreneur realized that the holiday season was fast approaching. Holidays are a major source of revenue and new customers for retail. He knew if he could have a successful holiday season, then everything would be alright. His mood changed overnight. He put all of his efforts into preparing for the holidays. He took out loans to acquire more product. He hired more employees. He organized advertisements. That holiday season was extremely successful. Six years later he is producing higher numbers than ever and having a great time.
Hope in life
People that lack hope are susceptible to anyone that is willing to offer hope. Recently, a host of people attempted to takeover the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Their reasoning was clear. They wanted to make a statement. The process on why they arrived on the Capitol Building steps that fateful January 6th morning started months prior. It has nothing to do with politics or with a politician’s inflammatory rhetoric. They fought for their candidate, attended rallies, told their friends to vote and voted themselves. They accomplished everything political pundits said they should in order to secure a win. The win they hoped for was for something much deeper than a party. They were pursuing a path for their beliefs, not for their party. When they lost, they lost hope. These people sincerely believed that life would be vastly different under another administration. They believed their rights and liberty would be taken away forever. They weren’t sure what to do. They had lost hope.
The storming of the Capitol had less to do with a stolen election as many claim. It had everything to do with a belief that America was lost, that their America was lost. Someone offered them a path. The pundits and podcasters logically explained the path. The Capitol Rioters had the ability to choose the path. They believed their America was attainable if lawmakers were held accountable. While the mission seemed futile, hope was restored. They followed through.
To restore hope:
- Pathway: help someone see that the steps are clearly in front of them to accomplish their goals.
- Agency: help someone see that they are fully capable of accomplishing the steps in front of them.
Hope is not enough
Hope does not work alone. It must start with a desire. Desire is the spark that ignites the fire. You have to want it. No matter how well laid out the plan is and how capable the people are of accomplishing it, they have to actually want to accomplish the goal. This may seem like a “no-brainer” but so much of my work with companies has to do with this very topic. Do employees actually want to improve results? Do employees actually want to be trained? Sometimes the answer is no, but they have to do this anyway. Ok, but isn’t it far better when the employees actually want to improve?
Politicians experience this every election cycle. They may have a clear, great plan and their constituents may even be fully capable of choosing this plan, but may have no desire to pursue it.
Organizational leaders, especially new ones, often face resistance to a new plan that will clearly lead to greener pastures. There are a myriad of reasons why people may not desire to follow a good path. This would be an excellent topic for another post.
In summary, hope is very influential in our lives. Hope, along with desire, is the power by which we invest our resources. If we want to increase performance at work, our employees need to see that doing so will help them attain their goals in life. If we want to help a struggling friend or colleague, we need to help them see that they are capable of doing great things and show them a pathway on how to reach their goal.
What experiences have you had with hope? Share your comments below. Share the article.