Light at the end of the tunnel: Leading with hope through Covid-19

By Dr Amal Ahmadi

A frog started to climb a tree with the goal to reach the top. Other frogs repeatedly jumped and shouted, “it’s impossible, it’s impossible, you will fall”. Yet the frog successfully reached the top of the tree despite the negative noise. How? It was deaf, and instead, thought that the other frogs were cheering in support, which filled the frog with hope to climb faster to achieve its goal… 

Reflecting on hope is timely in the unprecedented dark times we find ourselves in. Whilst leaders in the twenty first century often operate in rapidly changing and dynamic work contexts, this has become ever more intense in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact it continues to have on work environments. As unprecedented times call for unprecedented solutions, resilience and adaptability have taken a whole new level to overcome current challenges.

Hope is therefore increasingly more valuable during this time. Research correlates hope with various positive outcomes. A review and meta-analysis of 45 studies conducted in the last two decades on hope in the workplace finds that hope can play a significant role in predicting employee performance, influencing for instance job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and overall employee health and well-being (Reichard, Avey, Lopez, & Dollwet, 2013).

Defining hope

Hope can be described as “a desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment” (Merriam-Webster, 2020). Academic conceptualisations of hope present it as a multifaceted construct involving cognitive, motivational and emotional components. Related concepts include optimism, self-efficacy, problem solving, resourcefulness and goal-directed behavior (Snyder, Irving, & Anderson, 1991). Following from this, hope has been defined as a “state that enables people to set realistic goals that are attained through self-directed behavior (agency), as well as the ability to generate alternative ways to reach those goals when encountering barriers (pathways)” (Reichard et al., 2013, p. 292).

When there’s a will, there’s a way

Alongside the inevitable widespread of uncertainty and fear during this pandemic, much of the media coverage on Covid-19 has been negative. Fear and anxiety in the workplace can be paralyzing (Ahmadi, Vogel, & Collins, 2015) and this is where hope might help to drive individuals and organisations to more actively engage in finding ways to effectively move forward. Research finds that hope can motivate individuals to confront challenges and discover new pathways to goal attainment, whereas less hopeful individuals are more likely to disengage from goals and are generally less motivated to strategically plan contingencies in the face of barriers (Reichard et al., 2013).

A hopeful opportunity-oriented mindset may therefore be a driver to have the will and find the way. This is of course easier said than done, and may require a different way of “seeing”. So the question I pose here is: When faced with a challenge, do you see a brick wall, or a horizon of opportunity?

Opportunities from the crisis

Whilst the adverse outcomes of the pandemic cannot be overlooked, there are numerous inspiring examples of leaders and organisations, even countries, which have so far successfully kept Covid-19 under control. This may have involved rapid transitions to adapt ways of work (and life) in ways which would have been unimaginable this time last year. However, humanity has come a long way since the start of the outbreak, learning more about the disease, starting to develop ways to tackle it, and working together often acting in unison at an impressively massive scale to manage its challenges. How is your organisation handling the situation? What opportunities have come out of this? If you see light at the end of the tunnel, how can you lead others to see it too?  

A ray of hope

If leaders are able to instill the hope that the future will be brighter than the current uncertain and socially distant present, this may steer followers and organisations to innovatively find ways to overcome barriers and do their best to make this future a reality. This could be helpful regardless of whether the future revolves around growth, maintenance or mere survival.

Of course there can be a dark side to hope too. For instance, giving false hope can be exploitative. Furthermore, over reliance on hope can be misleading. So perhaps cautious optimism and calculated actions are the way forward.

Hope may be ignited through setting time aside to imagine (or re-imagine) a brighter future. This could involve individually and collectively planning ahead, brainstorming ideas for positive progress or change, and setting (or re-setting) goals. It is also important to celebrate small wins along the way, and to allow opportunities for breaks to sustain or renew energy, motivation and hopeful thinking. Moreover, strengthening connections and relationships between people may in itself lift spirits and hope in the workplace.

Above all, in the face of adversity, sometimes we have to turn a deaf ear to negativity, like our frog friend, to march on with the hope to achieve what might appear as impossible.  

References

Ahmadi, A., Vogel, B., & Collins, C. (2015). A Theory on the Role of Leader Fear in the Knowing-Doing Gap of Leadership. In N. M. Ashkanasy, W. J. Zerbe, & C. E. J. Hartel (Eds.), Research on Emotion in Organizations (Vol. 12).

Merriam-Webster. (2020). Hope. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hope

Reichard, R. J., Avey, J. B., Lopez, S., & Dollwet, M. (2013). Having the will and finding the way: A review and meta-analysis of hope at work. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(4), 292-304. doi:10.1080/17439760.2013.800903

Snyder, C. R., Irving, L. M., & Anderson, J. R. (1991). Hope and Health. In C. R. Snyder & D. R. Forsyth (Eds.), Handbook of Social and Clinical Psychology: The Health Perspective (pp. 285-305). Michigan: Pergamon Press.

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