I’ve learned and adopted many clichés throughout my military career. There’s one in particular that has been used so often that I think I say it in my sleep. It’s the response a briefer receives when he or she uses the word “hope” while communicating a plan. Without fail, someone in the room will say in one breath, “Hope’s not a COA.” That person is communicating that we cannot simply hope things will turn out the way we intend without doing the proper mission analysis and deliberate planning. That is undoubtedly sage advice regardless of industry.
As with any cliché, this one is often overused; so much so that one would assume that he or she should never use the word “hope.” I submit that though “hope” shouldn’t be an excuse to conduct inadequate planning, it is critical in our role as leaders. Let’s discuss why.
Hope is defined by Oxford Languages as the “feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” Thereby, a team full of hopeful people is synced by members’ expectation and desire to accomplish a shared goal. Hope is the intangible yet distinguishable trait that spiritually and emotionally unites team members to believe in a common cause. It’s the quality that inspires individual actions in spite of adversity with the understanding that each action will move the team closer towards its objective. Simply put, hope is a strong belief in a certain outcome that transforms into action regardless of circumstance.
So what does a hopeful organization look like, and how do you spread hope throughout your team or organization? I’ll provide several common characteristics of a hopeful team or organization and give you some practical advice on how you can spread hope that fosters a positive and optimistic work environment below.
1. Clear mission and compelling vision:
I introduced the concept of communicating a clear mission and compelling vision in my article, Leadership Lessons from the Gridiron, published in the MMOA Magazine. This is the foundational principle because a well-defined vision and purpose inspires team members and provides a sense of direction. It also encourages team members to set measurable and achievable goals, allowing the team to track progress and celebrate achievements.
2. Transparency and empowerment:
Open, honest, and transparent communication is encouraged in hopeful organizations. This, in turn, promotes trust and understanding amongst team members and leadership. Each individual team member is empowered to take action, make decisions, and contribute to the team’s overall success. As such, a culture of collaboration and teamwork is fostered, allowing team members to work together toward common goals.
3. Learning and development:
Members on hopeful teams are typically committed to continuous learning. They understand the importance of a continuing education program to remain flexible, maintain a competitive edge, and adapt to changes in the environment, economy, or political landscape. A team that values continuous learning and personal development provides consistent opportunities for skill enhancement and personal development.
4. Inclusivity, recognition, and appreciation:
It’s unfortunate that we have politicized these topics in recent years. Efforts to prioritize diversity and inclusion are often met with stark resistance, and saying that leaders should publicly recognize and appreciate team members is often met with the ridiculous assertion that leaders are becoming “soft.” Contrarily, leaders who ensure that team members feel valued and included within the organization see a measurable uptick in productivity. This is because people are more inclined to perform when they believe they are doing purposeful work that impacts the bottom line. Recognizing and appreciating them gives them the reassurance that their efforts are not in vain. Remember, thankless jobs are only those in which you refuse to say, “thank you.”
5. Innovation and social responsibility:
A hopeful organization encourages creativity and innovation, embracing change as an opportunity for growth. Leaders challenge their teams to solve complex problems without creating lose-lose scenarios. They take the team’s social and environmental responsibilities seriously, contributing positively to the team’s overall mission.
6. Long-term perspective and crisis preparedness:
Leaders encourage team members to consider the long-term impact their decisions and actions have on the team and organization as a whole. We use a “well-defined Commander’s Intent” in the military to explain how each team’s individual actions intertwine with the overall mission. Understanding how team actions are interconnected prevents “siloed” planning and execution and positively contributes to organizational mission accomplishment. As a result, the entire organization is prepared for crises and has intertwined contingency plans in place. This creates an adaptable and resilient organization, able to weather challenges and setbacks with a positive attitude.
These characteristics collectively create a culture of hope and optimism within the organization, which can lead to increased engagement, higher productivity, and stronger, more resilient teams.
Not every team or organization is ripe with hope. A hopeless team is marked by various negative characteristics that can contribute to a pessimistic and unproductive work environment.
So, what happens when a team has no hope? Below are a few characteristics or warning signs to look out for:
A constant grind with no end or reward in sight. There is a lack of clear vision and purpose, leaving team members feeling directionless and unmotivated. There are limited opportunities for career development and personal growth within the organization. As such, a vast majority of team members simply come to work, do the bare minimum, and go home. They have little incentive or motivation to advance team objectives.
2. Poor Communication:
Many team members tend to become more inner-focused and dedicated to personal goals instead of a common goal. As such, they tend to take a siloed approach to completing tasks and communication becomes less open and streamlined. The lack of communication and transparency leads to misunderstandings, mistrust, and frustration amongst team members.
3. Wild management pendulum swing:
Leadership may be authoritarian, unsupportive, or even abusive, creating a toxic work culture. Leadership may exhibit micromanagement behaviors, stifling creativity and autonomy among team members. Team members often feel underappreciated and undervalued for their efforts and contributions. Team member well-being, including physical and mental, is often overlooked.
4. Resistance to change:
The team is resistant to change and innovation, leading to stagnation and missed opportunities for growth. This creates stagnant or declining performance, as team members gradually lose motivation and enthusiasm for their work. Many team members prioritize short-term gains over long-term organizational sustainability and success. This leads to a lack of strategic planning and conjoined execution.
5. Rigidity and unprepared for crises:
Rigidity and unprepared for crises: Due to the lack of creativity and innovation, hopeless teams become unnecessarily constrained or paralyzed by doctrine. This rigidity prevents adequate crisis preparedness and causes teams to struggle to handle unexpected challenges effectively.
6. Trust deteriorates:
All of these characteristics ultimately lead to a loss of trust and confidence in leadership, other team members, and the team’s overall purpose. This creates a culture of conflict and division where internal politics and infighting prevails. As a result, team members seek more hopeful and supportive work environments elsewhere, and the turnover rate spikes. This lack of continuity leads to a reduced ability to produce and sustain positive results.
In a hopeless organization, these characteristics can contribute to low morale, decreased productivity, and a challenging work atmosphere. Transforming such a team often requires significant changes in leadership, culture, and policies to instill a sense of hope and purpose.
Hope is a topic that’s commonly discussed amongst leaders, but it is incumbent upon us to apply the aforementioned fundamentals to ensure our teams remain engaged, cohesive, and focused on a common objective. Leaders must make a concerted effort to create an environment where each team member will do his or her part to positively impact the overall organization. To do so, we must be willing to prioritize one of the most critical courses of action–instilling hope.