This is the 32nd in a series of posts in which I share thoughts on a book that has inspired me over the years.
In Strategy, preeminent military historian B.H. Liddell Hart shows how hope can be the one thing that saves an apparently lost battle.
In a previous edition of Books that Inspire Me, I quoted Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer; he wrote that anyone who would change the world, or a corner of the world, must have the ability to “spark and fan an extravagant hope.”
Note carefully: Hoffer did NOT say that the leader must spark and fan an extravagant optimism.
Optimism requires justification, hope does not. If I say that I’m optimistic we can end the political polarization that divides our nation, you could legitimately ask me on what grounds I base that optimism (and today that would be very shaky ground indeed). But if I say that I hope we can come together and end this divisive polarization, I do not need to justify that statement. I can hope for the impossible.
For the leader, the most important time to “spark and fan an extravagant hope” is when that hope seems most quixotic.
You have probably heard the worn platitude that “hope is not a strategy.” Well duh. But without hope, even the most brilliant strategy is doomed to failure. And when strategy fails, hope might be all that is left.
In the winter of 1777-78, there was no reason to believe that a ragtag band of underfed and poorly equipped patriots huddling in makeshift dwellings at Valley Forge could defeat the British army, at the time the world’s greatest military power. For General George Washington, sustaining his men’s hope against all odds that they could win – even though there was precious little reason for optimism – was Job #1.
In the darkest days of the great depression at, there was no objective reason to believe that our economy could recover, and that people would again be put back to work. In his first inaugural address in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt told the American people that we had “nothing to fear but fear itself.” Many strategies were implemented during the first 100 days of his administration, but FDR knew that sustaining our hope for a better future was his Job #1.
In 1940, Great Britain stood alone against the Nazi military machine that had subjugated continental Europe. English cities were being bombed, and the shipping that was her lifeline was being sent to the bottom of the ocean by German submarines. For Winston Churchill, Job #1 was sustaining hope of the British people that they could not only survive but would eventually prevail.
The less optimistic you are about anything, the more imperative it is for you to “spark and fan an extravagant hope” – in yourself and in those who look up to you.
The Hope Paradox: The less cause there is for optimism, the more important it is to spark and sustain hope.
The Hope Diamond: There is no such thing as false hope. Watch the music video featuring a performance of Canon by Grammy-Award winning pianist Laura Sullivan.
For more than 20 years, I’ve been working with healthcare and other organizations to help build a more positive Culture of Ownership. This July 20-22, I’ll be launching the inaugural Culture of Ownership Leadership Academy (COLAcademy), an interactive and immersive classroom experience on culture building. This first class is by invitation only and is nearly sold out. Watch for details on the second class, scheduled for September 12-15.