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23 June, 2020

Should leaders rely on hope?

Hope is not a strategy

I thought to start this blog with a standard piece about my thoughts on leadership but as these are more extraordinary times I decided instead to talk about hope. I recall reading the novels of the former Army Officer and now acclaimed author Allan Mallison and in one of these in the prologue he mentioned a former Commanding Officer of his telling him that “Hope is not a principle of war” a similar phrase such as – hope is not a strategy – will have been used countless times to shut down discussion and close off communication about a subject.  It is closely related to the put down of the hapless staff officer who says “I think” when briefing senior officers only to be told in no uncertain terms that they want to hear what they know rather than what they think.  I have been on both ends of that put down myself. I came across an article by Jeremy Weber about this and it started me thinking.

Mind the GAP

Eric Barker, best selling author, takes a slightly different view on hope in his blog, perhaps making it more into a vision, a destination that we can all aspire to even if we fall short.  He identifies the need for very specific Goals, the application of Agency actually having the will to complete then the creation of Pathways that visualise completion of the plan but in particular concentrate on identifying the obstacles and visualising ways around them.  Fill the GAP and become more hopeful he concludes.  There is a striking correlation with this approach to the GROW model  pioneered by the late Sir John Whitmore and this will be the subject of later posts.  The GAP model does appear to have a sound evidence base behind it too, which makes it an attractive proposition.

Sunlit Uplands

Winston Churchill in a radio address on 16 June 1940 as British Prime Minister used the concept of hope.  This was his third radio address to the nation and it was at a time when national disaster threatened.  Troops had been evacuated from France after the sweeping success of Nazi Blitzkrieg, this evacuation, Operation Dynamo, was a success but it left Britain in a precarious situation.  A quote from the broadcast is below:

If we can stand up to him [Hitler], all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

Even at this dark time Churchill was positioning people for the struggle that would last another 5 years although he cautions

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. 

So perhaps there is hope after all and although it may tempt fate to mention it in your next presentation in the C-suite the creation of a hopeful vision will help focus your goals and improve your resilience.