Our friend Cindy Lewis died recently at age 52 after 16 years battling cancer. Her memorial service had to be held in the local high school gym because over 500 people showed up.
Per her wishes, a celebration was held after the service and as I circulated among the guests I was struck by something amazing. I met several people who had never met Cindy. They told me they had heard about her and her amazing positive attitude and warrior spirit. A couple of people were cancer survivors, one guy struggled with depression, a woman had lost her son. Though they’d never met Cindy, her spirit was so powerful that it gave them strength. She gave them hope.
Because of the work I do I see most things through a leadership lens. Over the years I’ve heard the admonition, “Hope is not a business strategy,” and yet Cindy’s influence tells me that hope could well be one of the most important resources a leader can offer. Hope is a source of resilience and perseverance. Hope is a source of strength and power. Hope is a source of energy that fuels action.
If you define hope as wishful thinking – that you hope everything will magically work out for your business – then yes, hope is not a business strategy. But if you define hope as giving people confidence that your business has a well thought-out strategy, the skills to carry out that strategy, a culture that supports one another, and realistic opportunities, then hope can be fuel for exceptional performance and have a positive impact on people’s lives.
Doctors gave Cindy six months to live when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer 16 years ago. She lived 32 times longer than expected and we’re all certain that it was her fierce spirit, grounded in hope, that made her life exceptional. Are you giving others hope? Do you care enough to nurture the spirit of others in their work? What if nurturing the human spirit was a sacred responsibility for leaders?
Here are some ways you can nurture hope in others:
- Take a personal interest in their talent and potential. Look for opportunities to put their abilities to work and facilitate making it happen.
- Continually talk about how your company is making a difference in people’s lives. Every company, no matter what you do, makes a positive contribution but we lose sight of that in day-to-day demands.
- Continually talk about what the world will look like as a result of your company’s work, and your own personal impact.
- Cindy had a positive action approach to her war on cancer. She would say, “Okay, 24 hours for the pity party, then back to work.” What if you gave yourself 24 hours to bemoan a setback, reflect on what you need to do moving forward, then got back to work without bringing it up again and again?
- Cindy didn’t give negative thinking or people the time of day. In business it’s important to exercise critical thinking and consider contingency plans in case things don’t work out, but there’s a difference between prudent critical thinking and plain old negative attitudes. Consider using the word Abracadabra as a way of simply putting a stop to negative attitudes. Abracadabra means, “What I Speak Is What I Create,” and simply mentioning it can be a way to remind yourself and others that lingering in the negative isn’t productive.
- Hold others up to the highest standard of their inner spirit. Have the courage to respectfully challenge people when they speak or behave in ways that are not ennobling to themselves or human beings in general.