Resonant Leadership and Hope: 4 ideas to help build optimism

Part Two in the series on Leadership, Mindfulness, Hope & Compassion by Eleanor Moore.


In Part One of this series, we looked at how leaders sustain themselves. Not just by taking time out through rest and relaxation, important for “recharging”, but by really digging in to building in a mindfulness or mediation practice that incorporates renewal into the day to day experience.

In Part Two, we look at how Hope is a key factor in leadership, and its significant health benefits. Social scientists studying hope defines it as feelings of elation, happiness and a sense of control over one’s destiny. Hope nourishes the body, rekindles passion and is a gateway emotion to other positive thoughts and improved coping abilities. Studies report this to be true even for individuals who have been significantly compromised through physical disability and limited functioning. Hope has been shown to predict higher grades and account for more than half of actual track performance for elite athletes. Hope impacts on our openness and cognitive flexibility, problem solving abilities, empathy, willingness to seek variety, and our persistence.

Hope has some key lessons for leaders (think Martin Luther King):

1)     Leaders need dreams and aspirations, but also to be in touch with those of the people around them: this forms the desired image of the future.

2)     Leaders need to be optimistic and believe in their ability to make change.

3)     Leaders must see the future as realistic and feasible.

As with mindfulness, hope can provide renewal and resonance to leaders. Visions and dreams are the first step to cultivating hope, and optimism has a primary effect on this belief.

Leadership actions that are associated with optimism are:

1)     Seeking opportunities,

2)     Deliberately overcoming obstacles,

3)     Expecting the best from people.

The health benefits of optimism? Well, optimistic people are happier, more resilient, more productive, live longer and recover from illness faster.

How can we work on exercising the “hope” muscle? Just like elite athletes we can foster hope by using visualization.

Besides triggering mindfulness and a sense of renewal, visualization exercises help guide our decisions and future actions. The vision should prompt a specific mental picture of the future. Positive emotions generated through visualization are powerful drivers of behaviour.  But personal vision isn’t enough to drive collective change. We have to go beyond the personal vision to a shared vision that cuts through the noise of the everyday busy-ness of people’s individual schedule. It needs to remind us of the meaning of our work. If you cannot articulate the vision, then you can’t inspire yourself or others.

In times of stress, we often need to turn to others for assurance or help in processing our emotions and thoughts. Even in tough times, leaders can invoke hope and optimism if they are in touch with it themselves, engage in hope personally and can communicate this hopeful state to others.  The physical presence of a calm and positive leader can provide reassurance and share a sense of overcoming great odds to assist team members from becoming overwhelmed by confusion or paralysis. Leaders know that they cannot do it alone. They need to tap into hope and the collective self efficacy.

But Leaders go first!  Want to work on hope and optimism? Here are some simple ideas to get started:

1.  Ask yourself: What are my hopes and dreams? Where will you be 10 years from now if you were living your ideal life? What’s the environment, who will be around you? Don’t evaluate the feasibility of these ideas, just write them out, let the image develop and place yourself in the picture.

2.  Make a list of the things you want to do or experience before you die. Don’t be practical; just write out what comes to you. Be specific as you can.

3  You have just inherited a large amount of money and now have complete freedom from financial constraints. You can now do and have things you never thought possible. How would your life change?

4.  Pull it all together. Review the work you have done and look for patterns of themes that appear across these three exercises. What stands out as important to you about your dream of the future?


Stay tuned for Part Three, the last entry in the series, where we will consider the role of compassion in developing the Resonant Leader.

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