Hope is More Powerful than Strategy

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “hope is not a strategy.”

While I generally agree with that statement, I would argue that hope is essential for leadership. And at times, even more powerful than strategy itself.

Hope is essential for leadership. Click To Tweet

The great Napoleon Bonaparte once said that “a leader is a dealer in hope.”

A dealer in hope? Yes, that’s a strange description. In my mind, I see a leader dealing out hope like playing cards to worried employees.

In a way, that’s exactly what a leader must do.

Consider Winston Churchill. In the dark days of the beginning of World War II, the British people were filled with despair. They had suffered heavy losses, and there was fear throughout the country that Germany would be successful in overcoming the small Island nation.

In a speech delivered on June 4, 1940, Churchill provided hope to a worried nation. He assured them that:

“We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets, and on the hills. We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God’s good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old.”

In one speech, Winston Churchill ignited a country. He drove out despair and gave his people a hopeful vision of the future.

It’s our job as leaders to do the same.

In the past two years, every business has faced unprecedented challenges. A global pandemic, a deeply divided nation, labor shortages, inflation, and the supply chain crisis have all pushed employees to new levels of stress and anxiety.

People are worried about their jobs, their families, and their future. They are looking to their leaders for answers.

Just like Churchill, our role as leaders is to drive out despair and provide hope.

Our role as leaders is to drive out despair and provide hope. Click To Tweet

You might be asking yourself – how can I drive out despair when I don’t know what will happen in the future? How can I provide hope when I’m having trouble finding it myself?

Simple. We need to take a page out of Churchill’s playbook.

Instead of griping, complaining, and worrying in front of our employees, we must provide a hopeful vision of the future.

The only way to drive out despair is to unite our employees around a hopeful vision.

When the seas turn violent, and a storm blows in, sailors look to their captain for hope and assurance.

There will be time for strategy, but right now, our people need hope more than ever.

Providing a hopeful vision is one of the most important roles of a leader, learn more about establishing a hopeful vision in my new book All in the Same Boat.

[Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash]

If You Want to Be a Great Leader, Try Following

The best leadership lessons are often learned when we put ourselves in the role of a follower.

This past week, I went on my annual bird hunting trip to New England. I’ve been making this trip for years and enjoy getting away from work and being in the outdoors.

One of my favorite parts of the trip is that I’m not the leader.

The people I hunt with have been hunting these areas for a lot longer than me. So, I’m content to sit back and let others lead. I get to just relax and enjoy being in the woods, plus I get the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be a follower.

Deep in the New Hampshire woods this week, I made some interesting observations.

The best leadership lessons are often learned when we put ourselves in the role of a follower. Click To Tweet

Our third day of hunting started out normal. Six of us and three dogs entered the forest at the base of a remote mountain. Once we were clear from the dense underbrush, we discussed the plan of attack. We hadn’t been in this area for several years.

There was a debate among the more experienced hunters about the best way to hunt this area. I heard discussions about skidder trails, clear cuts, spruce bogs, and other details about this mountain. I wasn’t really listening. I was just waiting for my instructions. I was content to just follow the plan, whatever it was.

Without reaching any conclusion that I could tell, our most experienced hunter just picked up his gun and started walking up the mountain. I was confused and didn’t know what we were doing, so I asked, “What’s the plan?”

“Just line up and walk up the hill keeping the sun on your right shoulder. If anything changes, I’ll let you know over the radio.”

OK, I thought. I can do that. So, I set off.

Every few minutes, I would call out to the person on my left and my right to ensure we wouldn’t get separated in the deep woodland expanse. However, about 30 minutes into the push, I could no longer hear the person to my left.

I wasn’t worried, though. This happens a lot when we are pushing through a dense forest. Since there hadn’t been any changes announced over the radios, I continued to hike up the mountain with the sun on my right shoulder.

About 45 minutes later, our leader came over the radio looking for us. He was coming in very weak, indicating he was far away.

I called out to the guys on my right. Three of us were still together, but I realized that the rest of the team had traveled far to the left – almost out of radio range. Over the radio, I asked our leader to shout out loud to figure out where he was.

When I heard his faint voice in the distance, I realized we were almost half a mile apart. We had been walking in separate directions in the dense woods for nearly an hour. We need to backtrack to regroup.

When we finally got the group back together again, I asked our leader what had happened. He told me that when he got to the skidder trail, he realized it was the end of the area he wanted to hunt. So, he turned left to work in a different direction, failing to notify everyone of the change.

Our directions were to walk up the hill and listen for any changes on the radio. Since no changes were announced, three of us continued deep into the forest, utterly unaware that part of the group had changed course. The plan had changed, and no one told us.

The good news is that, other than some sore legs, nothing terrible happened due to this mix-up. But, it does illustrate some important aspects of leadership.

First, it’s important to provide clear directions when you assign a task. This includes allowing people to ask questions to make sure they fully understand the assignment. I talk about this in my book, All in the Same Boat. I learned in the Navy that most misunderstandings occur when the task is first assigned.

Second, it’s critical to follow up throughout an assignment to ensure the orders are still clear. Our leader was silent throughout the entire hunt leading us to falsely assume everything was proceeding to plan. In business, following up with employees on assignments prevents miscommunication and costly mistakes.

Third, it’s essential to let employees know when things change. Just like my hunting experience, conditions on the ground often require us to change our plans. We need to communicate those changes clearly to our employees so they can adjust their actions.

Communication is a critical part of leading people, and that fact was strongly reinforced in the woods this week.

Communication is a critical part of leading people. Click To Tweet

It also reminded me that the best leadership lessons are often learned when we put ourselves in the role of a follower. In my case, I saw how ineffective communication led to poor performance.

I encourage you to put yourself into a follower role every once in a while and see what you learn. The lessons are often more powerful when you see them from the other side.

The Power of Personal Connection

I have a pet peeve.

I can’t stand seeing managers who stay isolated. It bothers me when I hear about bosses who stay locked up in their office or spent their days in meetings.

They never get out to see their employees. They are disconnected!

Look – I know what it’s like to be busy.

As the co-founder and CEO of a start-up manufacturing business, I’m swamped. I’m the head of sales, HR manager, CFO, and Operations Manager.

I wear many hats and work long hours. I’m as busy as the next guy,

But I also know the importance of getting out of my office. I know the importance of connecting with my team.

I also do something very specific each day to make sure our entire company stays connected and everyone is on the same page. It only takes 15 minutes a day and you can do it too.

It’s a morning stand-up meeting.

Now, before you tune me out and tell me how much a waste of time meetings are, let me tell you that I hate meetings as well. In fact, what I’ve found is that our daily stand-up meeting actually prevents us from needing other meetings throughout the day.

But, if you’re still skeptical, hold on. Because I think you will become a believer once I’ve made my case.

So what is a stand-up meeting?

For us, we all meet on the factory floor at 8:30 AM in front of a giant whiteboard. Written on the whiteboard are all of the current orders.

The meeting starts with a briefing from the production manager on what jobs we are going to build that day. We discuss what major shipments will arrive and depart the factory. Then we go around the room and everyone has the chance to add anything that is important to the whole team – Part shortages, quality updates, customer questions, product changes, field issues, and people issues – who’s absent, who’s traveling, who’s leaving early, who has vacation later in the week.

We allow enough time for questions, clarification, and to resolve any conflicting priorities.

I give a quick update on what’s coming up in the future – big orders anticipated, visitors coming in, status on landing new customers, my travel schedule. And I wrap up the meeting by telling everyone to be safe.

That’s it. The whole meeting takes about 15 minutes.

And yes, we stand the whole time.

So, you might be thinking – How does this meeting help with human connection? How does a 15-minute meeting each day make us a more connected team?

Well. I’ll tell you. There are 5 things:

1. There is a personal connection. Like a family gathering around the breakfast table, we learn how everyone is doing. These meetings help us to continue to build relationships with each other.

2. We get everyone on the same page. At the end of the meeting, we all know what needs to be done and our role in it. We’ve resolved any conflicts and we understand the priorities. We have focus and clarity. We have a plan for the day.

We get everyone on the same page. Click To Tweet

3. We have a better view of the future. We know who is taking a vacation, who’s sick. We know when customers are visiting. We know when to expect the next big order. We can better set out daily priorities knowing what’s more likely to happen in the coming weeks

4. We reinforce our mission and values. For me, every discussion helps me reinforce our mission daily as we discuss various topics.

5. These stand-up meetings set the tone, the pace, and the routine in our business. I look forward to each meeting because I know I will come away with all the answers I need for the day. I also know everyone will be there, so I know I don’t have to have any other meetings throughout the day.

These meetings regularly set the cadence for our business.

There is a personal connection every morning, we get on the same page, and we reinforce our mission.

I like this quote from Hilton Barbour. He says, “Small rituals make a culture”

“Small rituals make a culture” Hilton Barbour Click To Tweet

And that’s what our morning stand-up meetings are for us. They are small rituals that help us set and maintain our culture.

So what about you? Do you have a regular way to connect with employees and ensure everyone is on the same page?

Do you have a daily method to reinforce your mission and values?

If not, you may want to try a daily stand-up meeting.

If you hate meetings as much as I do, you’ll love this 15 minute morning ritual.

 

P.S.

If you like this idea, get a copy of my latest book – “I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following”  It is filled with 23 practical ideas like this on how you can become a more effective leader.

And, If you want to get more out of your daily commute, listen to my podcast, Deep Leadership.  It’s available on all podcast apps.

I Have the Watch is also available on Audible for your commuting pleasure.