The Leader as a Dealer in Hope

by Jul 10, 20081 comment

Napoleon Bonaparte said that “A leader is a dealer in hope”. Yet our prevailing model of leadership is one based on fear: Buy my cosmetics or you will be ugly. Buy my drug or you will get sick. Pass this exam or I will fail you. Do as I say or I will fire you. Join my religion or you will go to hell. Vote for me or the terrorists will get you. Buy my little blue pill or you will be impotent. And the media throws logs onto the fear fire: the BBC reported that there are 8,571 stories about smoking deaths for every person who dies of smoking.

Our “energy crisis” is a prime example of how fear metastasizes. We are becoming acclimatized (forgive the pun!) to $150-per-barrel oil prices and pundits are forecasting $200 by year end, and 2000 futures contracts have been sold for delivery of oil at $300 by the end of 2008. While this is all painful, in real terms, oil prices have remained steady – in early 1980 oil peaked at $39.50 per barrel, which is about the same as today’s price, adjusted for inflation. But since then, cars have become, on average, 35% more efficient and there is an ongoing, extraordinary effort to boost that trend? – Toyota’s next version of its successful hybrid, the Prius, will have solar panels on the roof. John Kanzius is experimenting with generating energy from salt water. Fridges use a quarter of the energy today that they did in the 1970s. The Swedes are using the body heat of the 250,000 people who rush through Stockholm Central Station each day to heat the building next door. Kenichi Horie just traveled 4,800 miles from Hawaii to Japan in a catamaran powered solely by wave power. A device has been developed that straps to the knee and can generate and store enough power from walking to power ten cell phones. Costa Rica aims to be carbon neutral by 2021, and Norway by 2050. We will overcome our energy crisis – through innovation, inspiration and hope.

Leadership and communication styles based on fear achieve the exact opposite of what we are trying to accomplish because fear builds on itself, causing an acceleration of the cycle of being frightened. One idea feeds upon another until we lose sight of the rational and the inspiring which is within everything.

Humans are inquiring, curious and innovative beings who yearn for leadership that offers hope. In our work in organizations, one of our first activities is to halt the practices and behaviors that generate fear, including our fear-based language, and replace them with hope. Generally speaking, hope is not a leadership style in which we are practiced or competent. Although we do not need to become Polyannas, we do however, need to become dealers in hope. As the Dalai Lama replied when asked why he was always happy, “It makes me feel better.”? That’s how inspiring organizations feel for those who work in them and do business with them.