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Barack Obama famously wrote about the ‘audacity of hope‘. Unfortunately, such audacity was always likely to be quashed under the crushing weight of partisan politics. Is it so that hope is therefore an impractical approach to the realities of our work-a-day life? Hope is most often associated with naïveté – a failure to grasp the gritty truths that daily life offers us. Can this seemingly limp abstraction be redeemed and provide us with more than the succour of promise?
Can hope yield results?
Yes it can.
I’m one for gritty realism. I like a good tragedy over a comedy every time. I’m even often cynic about the motives of others: politicians, bankers and the rest. But I’d hate to be just a tired old cynic. There would be little to look forward to. I’m more of what I would term a cynical idealist. Less naïveté, more having a firm grasp of some of the darker instincts of humanity, without it letting me lose faith in us all and our humane instincts.
I teach teenagers. This means that every day I see the best and worst we have to offer. From instinctive curiosity and unremembered acts of kindness, to hormone driven selfishness and random acts of irrationality. But if I didn’t see more of the best in my charges than the worst then I likely wouldn’t be a very good teacher. If I didn’t have the strong sense of hope that my students could arise out of whatever negative circumstances they were mired in then I would surely be a poor role model.
Why do I retain my idealism and my sense of hope? I suppose it is a leap of confidence. I feel confidently competent enough to take control of my life and make a difference to the lives of e students I teach. I have a good degree of what Albert Bandura, from Stanford University, would term ‘self-efficacy‘: the notion that I have the ability to control most of the events in my life. Henry Ford’s quote is apt:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
Hope can make a difference.
Self-efficacy is often a notion associated with professionals in leadership positions. As you would likely expect, people who run organisations feel happier with their role because they feel empowered to control their career and their decisions reinforce their sense of power and self-belief. It is something leaders should think deeply about. A happier, more hopeful workforce is more productive and successful. Bandura and Edwin Locke, from the Univeristy of Maryland, have collated a great deal of research on the importance of self-efficacy and its importance – see here.
In an article for Psychology Today – see here – it cites the seven things happy employees do, hope is a key component. Rather than a mere abstraction, this attitude can yield significant results. The article cites Dr Shane Lopez who states:
“Hopeful salespeople reach their quotas more often; hopeful mortgage brokers process and close more loans; and hopeful managing executives meet their quarterly goals more frequently” (Lopez, 2013).
Of course, hope is bound up in a range of personal qualities that impact upon our performance and our attitude to the world and our careers. Optimism, trust in others, to self-efficacy and resilience in the face of failure. But I like hope as a catch all concept. If we are hopeful we will better persevere in the face of challenge – we will likely be more proactive in makes changes when circumstances are against us.
Francis Bacon would argue that ‘hope is a good breakfast but a bad supper‘, something of a falsehood, but when hope is pinned to self-belief and action it can yield positive results. Positive psychology often takes a good kicking from pragmatic professional types. Hope, love, trust and such are qualities people more associate with greetings cards rather than the world of work. But perhaps hope is more than a mere fuzzy, warm abstraction – it could be an essential prerequisite for us to do great work.