Are you a hopeless leader?

There are too many hopeless leaders in the world.  We need more hope.

Apollo 13 is one of my favourite movies of hope.  You may find that surprising, but Ed Harris’ character – Gene Kranz, the NASA Flight Director in charge of the moon mission – uses hope with his team to realise their highest performance potential.

In case you don’t know the story, Kranz and his team are faced with a potentially tragic disaster when the moon mission is derailed by an internal explosion aboard the ship. It’s critical moments like these that call for leadership, which in Kranz’s case is delivering a crystal-clear message of laser-focused outcomes fuelled by hope:

“Gentlemen, at this moment, I want you all to forget the flight plan.  From this moment on, we are improvising a new mission: How do we get our people home?”

“We’ve never lost an American in space and we’re sure …not gonna lose one on my watch!  Failure is not an option! … I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”

Through his mindset, attitude and words, Kranz calms his team, provides clear direction and instills confidence in their ability to resolve the crisis.  He gives them hope.

A key responsibility of leaders is to set a hopeful vision for the future. A vision that inspires and motivates themselves and others to stay the course and be their best.

Research suggests that whilst eighty-nine per cent of us believe the future will be better than the present, only fifty percent of us believe that we can make it so.


If leaders can’t create a hope filled vision for themselves and their teams, how can they expect  their people to progress towards a better future?


Hope lifts the human spirit and helps us persevere in the face of challenge.  Hope sees the future we can achieve if we keep moving forward, adjusting and adapting when needed.

A hopeful leader sees beyond today’s challenges to tomorrow’s answers.


“The difference between hope and despair is a different way of telling stories
from the same facts.”
                                                                                          Oprah Winfrey​

What is hope? (and how can I get more of it?)

In a world that is increasingly challenging and complex, hope is often seen as soft, unrealistic and pointless. In the world of science, hope is far more tangible.  Psychologists have developed models of hope which suggest that it can be developed and leads to a range of positive outcomes.   

A general definition of hope is “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment” ​(Merriam-Webster dictionary​), but in psychology the definition is far more specific. Professor Rick Snyder, who developed Hope Theory and lead much of the research in the field, defined hope as:  “Process of thinking about one’s goals, along with the motivation to move toward those goals (agency), and the ways to achieve those goals (pathways).”​ (Snyder, 1995)​.

Snyder and his colleagues found hope not only lifts your spirits, it buoys your energy, makes life seem worthwhile and changes your day-to-day behaviour. In this way, hope involves work of your head, your heart and your hands as your rational and emotional selves come together to guide your actions. Hope involves the three following elements:

1)  Identifying your “want to” – as opposed to “have to” – goals. This is called ‘goal thinking’ – knowing where you’re hoping to go.

2)  Developing specific pathways to reach those goals and make your hopes a reality.  Scientists call this ‘pathways thinking,’ but you could just think of it as way power. What’s the way forward to reach your goals?

3)  Generating and sustaining the motivation for using those pathways to fulfil your hopes.  Scientists call this ‘agency thinking,’ or you might just think of it as willpower. How are you going to have the will to make your way possible and achieve your goals?


HOPE = Goal thinking + Willpower + Waypower


What does hope look like in action?

People with high hope support their goals with regular, committed action​ and creatively think of different strategies for working towards them.  They understand that disappointments and challenges are a natural part of life​ and so persist in the face of challenges and disappointments​ and overall, have a growth mindset​.

What difference does hope make?

Researchers have found that hope plays a central role in driving persistence, motivation, goal setting and innovation.   In fact, other things being equal, a meta-analysis has found hope leads to a 14% increase in productivity by making people feel more engaged and enthusiastic about work – that equates to about an hour a day for most of us. Now that’s worth investing in!

Importantly for leaders, hope strengthens relationships because people with high hope are not only interested in their own goals, but also in the goals of others​. They are also able to take the perspective of others,​ and perceive themselves to have more social support, more social competence and less loneliness​.

There are too many hopeless leaders in the world.   We need more hope.


 How can you increase hope?

One approach to increasing hope – the Hope Map was created by Dr Shane Lopez.

 1)  Take a piece of paper and place it horizontally on your desk. Fold it into three equal sections and then open it up again.

 2)  On the right third of the page write the heading “Goals”. Then note down a goal you’re hoping to achieve. Remember this needs to be a ‘want to’ rather than a ‘have to’ goal

 3)  On the left third of the page write the heading “Pathways”. Try to note down at least three different pathways to reach your goal and make your hopes a reality. 

 4)  In the middle third of the page write the heading “Obstacles”. Try to note down at least one obstacle for each of the pathways you’ve identified that could hinder your progress.  One of the things researchers have uncovered about achieving our goals is we’re more likely to succeed when for we plan possible obstacles at the outset.

 5)  Finally, around the edges of your page make a note of how you are going to maintain your motivation and willpower to complete the pathways, achieve your goal and realize your hopes. How will you make the journey enjoyable? Which strengths can you use? Who will encourage you? How will you measure your progress?

Once your map is complete and your hopes are clear, you’re ready to put it into action!

Research suggests no other workplace measure – including job satisfaction, organisational commitment and confidence to do the job – counts more than hope in determining how you show up at work. On that basis alone, it seems worth a few minutes of your time!

As Christopher Reeve, (Superman) said, “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”

I can help you become a more hopeful leader through my coaching and mentoring programs.  Click here to find out more.

Copyright 2019: Dr Paige Williams

Paige Williams, PhD

Paige Williams, PhD

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach

Paige helps leaders leverage their leadership to lead teams that deliver and create culture that feeds high performance.

Leveraging Leadership for positive purposeful impact.