Hope springs eternal

Viewing the election news from Zambia this morning, and talking to my clients and friends across that huge country, I was once again struck by the human truth that people will always find fresh cause for optimism. I’m sure we are all heartened by the strengthening of the democratic process across Africa and we wish Zambians good fortune on the next stage of their Republic’s journey.

‘Hope springs eternal’ was a phrase coined by Alexander Pope in his ‘Essay on Man’ published in 1733. It set the tone for Optimistic Philosophy in Europe by saying that as it was impossible to know God’s intention for mankind, we should accept that what happens in life is right and proceed to make the best of it.

Hope remains a truly powerful force in modern organisational culture. It has the power to solve problems and snatch success from the prospect of imminent disaster. It is rare that business refinancing or restructuring exercises produce sustainable improvement unless the employee dimension is addressed. Staff need to be given a clear purpose, and a framework of understanding that extends their situational awareness beyond the confines of their own department or office. They need to have a ‘picture’ painted for them, to illustrate how the future might be if they participated in the planned change. The word picture is important because as humans we react powerfully to imagery – much more so than to words or numbers. Envisioning a better future state enables people to buy in and allows hope to spring forth once again.

I do enjoy seeing the new Executive titles that are spawned in the Western business world. Many of them are self-serving, but one or two do make you reconsider a paradigm. The recasting of Human Resources as Talent Management has the potential to do that – if taken seriously by practitioners and their employers.But the role of Chief Hope Officer remains a subset of the leadership position.

Modern business leaders are beginning to understand that their ability to empathise with staff, customers and business partners (their EQ) is considerably more valuable than their IQ. Only when you empathise with another human being can you hope to alter their emotional state. And when you can empathise with an entire workforce, the way is paved for alignment. The alignment of their daily behaviours with the leader’s strategic intent, which is a precursor for successful business change.

The old lions of business might regard this as a weakness. But understanding employees actually enables you to hold them more strongly to account.

Let’s embrace the idea of inspiring hope in the organisations we lead.