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4 Ways Leaders Build Hope In Uncertain Times

Did you wake up this morning looking forward to work? Work plays a significant role in the lives of most Americans. In a large study over three years, Gallup sought to understand the emotional needs of engaged and committed employees. The most powerful question they found was about the future. Evidence suggests that 69% of employees who strongly agree their leaders make them feel enthusiastic about the future are engaged. Compared to only 1% of those who disagree are engaged. This is significant for leaders because there is a well-established positive connection between employee engagement and key performance outcomes. Given the uncertainty in the workplace, feeling enthusiastic about work might seem unrealistic. So, I'd like to make a case for hope. If you are a leader that purposefully builds hope, this article explains why you have made a smart decision. If you haven't considered it, this article will make the case for why it's crucial to build hopefulness and four practical steps to take – and the sooner, the better.

"Everything that is done in the world is done by hope." Martin Luther

Why hope matters in the workplace

Evidence is clear that being hopeful translates to business results.

Numerous studies have linked hope with many individual, team, and organizational benefits fundamental to growth:

  • Increased revenue and decreased operating costs

  • Improved employee retention

  • Enhanced ability to deal with ambiguity

  • Job satisfaction and organizational commitment

  • Sustaining innovation during significant changes such as mergers and acquisitions

  • Lower levels of stress

  • Improved employee and team performance

  • Increased organization citizenship behaviors

  • Positive relationships

In the following Tedx, Dr. Hellman explains the science and power of hope.

What is hope?

Hope is often considered an emotion and can be challenging to define. However, hope is both an emotion and a way of thinking.

Hope Theory suggests that hopefulness is a human strength comprised of three distinct, interrelated components:

  1. Goals Thinking – identification of valuable goals

  2. Pathways Thinking –specific strategies to reach those goals

  3. Agency Thinking – motivation to apply strategies

Concerning leadership, hope is a positive state that contributes to leaders and followers pursuing, expecting, and achieving organizational goals.

Hope is not optimism. It is related but distinctly different.

Hope emphasizes setting goals and following through on them to attain a positive future outcome. It is not self-esteem or self-efficacy thinking. Hope involves a belief that a goal is possible and the willpower to pursue it continuously.

How hopeful are you?

Hope plays a vital role in employees' well-being and facilitates change. Measuring hope can be especially beneficial as a pre-post measure for large-scale change initiatives.

Levels of hope can vary dramatically depending on the person and the situation. People generally considered hopeful can still experience low levels of hope when facing significant stressors.

The Adult State Hope Scale is a valid short survey that takes less than two minutes to complete and measures the degree of hope at the moment. Higher scores correlate to a more significant state of hopefulness.

Respondents use an eight-point Likert agreement scale where one is definitely false, and eight is definitely true for each of the following six questions:

  1. If I should find myself in a jam, I could think of many ways to get out of it.

  2. At present, I am energetically pursuing my goals.

  3. There are lots of ways around any problem that I am facing now.

  4. Right now, I see myself as being pretty successful.

  5. I can think of many ways to reach my current goals.

  6. At this time, I am meeting the goals that I have set for myself.

4 Practical ways leaders build hope in others

Effective leaders are organizational hope dealers. In a crisis-driven workplace, influential leaders engage followers in hopeful thinking to account for increased goal difficulty and effort.

Although hope can not be taught, the following are four proven strategies leaders can use to build hope in the workplace:

Hope Builder 1: Vision

Articulating a compelling vision clarifies direction, inspires confidence and action, and coordinates efforts. Evidence suggests that a compelling vision is directly and positively related to creative performance. To be considered compelling, a vision needs to be desired, beneficial to others, challenging, and visual. Stories and metaphors are powerful ways to connect with others. How well followers can visualize the future is fundamental to hopefulness.

"Developing a vision is an exercise of both the head and the heart, it takes some time, it always involves a group of people, and it is tough to do well." Kotter

Hope Builder 2: Positive Reinforcement

Make recognition a leadership habit. What happens to employees after doing their work has the most significant impact on influencing future behavior. Leaders can build hope by reinforcing the value of organizational goals to the employee and the organization through reward and recognition.

Effective reward and recognition systems have five characteristics:

  1. Targeted toward specific behaviors

  2. Applied immediately or frequently

  3. Customized to what the individual values

  4. Focused on what is achieved and how it is achieved

  5. Present everyone with the same opportunity to receive a reward or recognition.

"Bringing out the best in followers requires purposeful performance reinforcement rather than management of poor performance." Doolittle

Hope Builder 3: Collaboration

In a crisis, leaders can build hope by working with followers to identify alternative paths to achieve goals and reset priorities. Change imposed is change opposed. Leaders support collaboration with employees by active listening, providing frequent and open communication, and creating access to information.

"Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success." Henry Ford.

Hope Builder 4: Coaching

Coaching is partnering with followers in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. High-quality trust-based leader-follower coaching relationships build hope by creating new possibilities.

Evidence suggests that 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence. Over 70% of coaching relationships result in improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. 86% of companies that provide coaching for employees report that they recouped their investment in coaching and more.

Hope is more than a wishful way of thinking; it is a leadership habit.

Although hope can not be explicitly taught, evidence suggests leaders can build hopefulness through a compelling vision, positive reinforcement, collaboration, and coaching.

How can you actively build hope within others today?


Adams, V. H., Snyder, C. R., Rand, K. L., King, E. A., Sigman, D. R., & Pulvers, K. M. (2002). Hope in the workplace, in Giacolone, R. & Jurkiewicz, C. (Eds.), Workplace Spirituality and Organization Performance, NY: Sharpe.

Brim, B. (2021). Strengths-based leadership: The 4 things followers need. Gallup.

Daniels, A. (2016). Bringing out the best in people: How to apply the astonishing power of positive reinforcement (3rd edition). McGraw-Hill.

Gwinn, C. and Hellman, C. (2019) Hope Rising, How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life. Morgan James Publishing

Helland, M., & Winston, B. (2005). Towards a deeper understanding of hope and leadership. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies. Vol. 12 (2).

Kirk, S., & Koeske, G. (1995). The fate of optimism: a longitudinal study of case leaders' hopefulness and subsequent morale. Research in Social Work Practice, 5, 47-61.

Ludema, J. D., Wilmot, T. B., & Srivastva, S. (August, 1997). Organization hope: Reaffirming

the constructive task of social and organizational inquiry. Human Relations, 50:8,


Luthans. F., & Jensen, S. M. (2003). Hope: A new positive strength for human resources development. Human Resources Development Review.

Mukherjee, U. & Sharma, P. (2020). Hope at workplace: A review of the literature. International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation, Vol. 24, Issue 06.

Sitten, T., Mutonyi, B., & Lien, G. (2021). Does organizational vision really matter? An empirical examination of factors related to organizational vision integration among hospital employees. BMC Health Services Research.

Snyder, & Snyder, C. R. (2000). Handbook of hope theory, measures, & applications. Academic.

Snyder, Sympson, S., Ybasco, F., Borders, T., Babyak, M., & Higgins, R. (1996). Development and Validation of the State Hope Scale. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(2), 321–335.

White-Zappa, B (2001). Hopeful corporate citizenship: A quantitative and qualitative examination of the relationship between organizational hope, appreciative inquiry, and organizational citizenship behaviors. Dissertation Abstracts International, (UMI No. 3012630)


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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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