“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” -John Quincy Adams
We are certainly living through unprecedented times. Although we are experiencing disruption on every level, we do not have to detach from the belief that the world will “reset” and we will work our way back to a new normal. This is an opportunity to hone in on resources for recovery and find ways to reinvent ourselves.
If we consider our current reality, in the midst of a pandemic, we are living in a VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). From what I have seen in the last few months, both on a personal level and through social media, our reality consists of fear, worry, vulnerability, and disequilibrium. One measure of control that we do have is to maintain a hope mindset. Leaders can illustrate a hope mindset by integrating into their leadership qualities of trust, compassion, resilience, and curiosity.
Effective leaders inspire trust. Gallup research was conducted with 10,000 employees and trust was ranked as the most important quality of a leader. Ask yourself – As a leader, do you have the trust of your administration, staff, and employees that you will demonstrate an ability to address unanticipated actions? Trust comes from our belief in a leader’s credibility on the basis of their expertise and dependability. During these precarious times, we have to put our trust into our leaders, be it in the workplace or in the political arena. People are living through ambiguity and uncertainty with the reduction of jobs, folding businesses, and fluctuating business hours. Our daily life has been affected in the way we shop, health care, working remotely, disruption of social events and many other areas. We therefore have to trust that leaders will deliver disappointing news with honesty and transparency.
Another quality that I believe distinguishes hopeful leadership is compassion. According to Worline and Dutton (Awakening Compassion at Work: Quiet Power that Elevates People and Organizations), compassion is the hidden heart of strategic success and the heart of leadership.
According to Worline and Dutton (2017), there are four aspects of compassion:
Notice: the portal to awakening compassion, suffering is related to questions about meaning and existence. Asking humble, gentle, kind questions is a form of skillful noticing. Leaders who notice suffering relate with empathy and concern.
Interpret: the key to responding with compassion. We have to interpret suffering as worthy of compassion, only then do we include others in our circle of concern.
Feeling: the bridge to compassionate action. We close down compassion when we jump to conclusions. Rather, we need to shift our interpretations and see others as deserving of compassion, no matter their position in the organization – their role, lifestyle, and economic status.
Action: compassion is expressed in action. Managers/leaders do not receive training on how to build these skills. Like improv actors who make up their lines, building off of interpretation of suffering. Managing with compassion is learnable and developed through practice.
The third quality that I believe makes a hope-driven leader is resilience – the ability to bounce back from adversity. Resilience is not a fixed trait, it can be developed (American Psychological Association).
THINK ABOUT A TIME WHEN YOU WERE EXPERIENCING ADVERSITY –
Did you create a story about what was happening?
Did you take direct actions?
Did someone acknowledge you?
HOW CAN A LEADER BUILD RESILIENCE?
- They have to avoid seeing crises as insurmountable.
- They need to make connections.
- Self-care is vital – both on a physical and emotional level – knowing how to self-regulate emotions and mindset.
- There has to be motivational drivers, knowledge of one’s strengths and weaknesses, and approaching challenges with emotional intelligence and emotional agility.
- Having the ability to know what they can and can’t control.
Curiousity is an important leadership quality. Todd Kashdan, Psychologist/Professor at George Mason University and author of a book entitled, “Curious” created a scale with two curiousity dimensions. The scale encompassed
- Motivation to seek out knowledge and new experiences (referred to as stretching)
- Willingness to embrace the uncertain and unpredictable nature of everyday life (embracing)
Kashdan later developed a new scale, The Five-Dimensional Curiousity Scale. Through collecting data from a nationally representative sample of adults, he uncovered five dimensions of curiousity
- Joyous Exploration – recognition and desire to seek out new knowledge and information
- Deprivation Sensitivity – pondering abstract or complex ideas, trying to solve problems and seeking to reduce gaps in knowledge
- Stress Tolerance – willingness to embrace doubt, confusion, anxiety, and other forms of distress that arises from exploring new unexpected, complex, mysterious or obscure events
- Social Curiousity – wanting to know what other people are thinking and doing by observing, talking and listening
- Thrill Seeking – willingness to take physical, social, and financial risks to acquire varied, complex and intense experiences.
These five dimensions, although created for a scale, seem to represent areas relevant to leadership during COVID-19.
Previously, I may not have thought that curiousity was an important leadership quality, however, research taught me otherwise. Douglas Ready, Senior Lecturer in Organizational Effectiveness at M.I.T. Sloan School of Management conducted dozens of interviews with C-Suite Executives around the world and he found that curiousity was mentioned over and over as a critically important leadership behavior. Further, as postulated by Schmittlein, Dean of M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, “curiousity can be learned but it must be intentional.” How can we make curiousity intentional? I believe that it starts early on when you ask your child, “What important questions did you ask today?” rather than “What did you do today?” Over the years, this will become part of their leadership narrative.
I could not end my talk for McGill University on Leaders Inspiring Hope in a Time of Crisis with only the variables that decipher hopeful leadership. I wanted to select a leader that demonstrates these qualities. I chose the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who is representative of an Inclusive Leader. She is accessible, invites input, and acknowledges her own fallibility. Her mindset exemplifies her belief that if people feel accepted and supported, they will thrive.
Prime Minister Ardern inspires hope. She is exemplary in the way she has handled the pandemic. She has stated that her goal is not just flattening the curve of coronavirus cases but eliminating the virus altogether. For her facility in successfully leading people through the pandemic, she is considered the most effective leader on the planet. Considering the four qualities that I have documented in this article, Prime Minister Ardern demonstrates trust in her transparency in revealing her intentions and clarifying her expectations. With regards to compassion, she has shown herself to be compassionate in the way she handled the Christchurch mosque shootings when she stated, “I feel overwhelmed. Here are people who made New Zealand their home. They should be safe. They are us.” She has demonstrated compassion by using terms like, “I want to prepare everyone”, “Don’t be disheartened”, “Check on your neighbours”. In spite of her young years, she demonstrated resilience in being at the helm as a leader. Although pregnant, she still carried out her duties and set up an ongoing forum for New Zealand Business and Labour Relations. Commission to shape policies in order to build a resilient economy. Finally, she has the curiousity to want to understand how to make New Zealand a thriving country.
Hope is the one mindset that will help us to face difficulty in this time of crisis. After all, we do not consider hope in a time that is prosperous, it emerges when one is facing difficulty. As leaders, we must demonstrate our own vulnerability, yet at the same time act as visionaries. As leaders, we must engage in shared stories of triumphs and past successes. As posited by Libby Gill, Leadership Expert, and author of The Hope-Driven Leader, “hope is the fundamental belief that change is possible and the expectation that it is our actions, fueled by a positive vision of the future, that drive successful outcomes…… it is critical that leaders instill their workforce with a hope-driven view of the future as well as a concrete action plan to adapt and innovate for a changed world.”
Gill, L. (2018). The Hope-Driven Leader: Harness the Power of Positivity at Work, Diversion Books
Kashdan, T. (2010). Curious? The Missing Ingredient of a Fulfilling Life, HarperCollins Publisher
Worline, M. and Dutton, J. (2017). Awakening Compassion at Work: The Quiet Power That Elevates People and Organizations, Barrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
YouTube – Dr. Zina Suissa, Tedx – Courage and Convictions
YouTube – Dr. Zina Suissa, McGill Talk – Leaders Inspiring Hope in a Time of Crisis