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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dering Mock


Updated: Sep 28, 2020

When organizations and their people drift from the vision for a better future, employees can feel rudderless. When leaders focus more on the operational and less on the aspirational, the shared understanding of meaning and purpose is clouded or lost. People may be listless, or adrift, "going through the motions." This organizational ennui is often the absence of hope for a better future. This absence of hope can devolve into institutional despair.

One of the challenges of leaders is to counteract this despair that can creep into the culture of an organization almost without notice. Without seeming pollyanna-ish and without prevaricating, leaders must instill glimmers of hope in the organization. It is possible for leaders to acknowledge the current realities while at the same time, sharing glimpses of what might be. Here are some ideas for doing just that:

1. Check yourself first. What is contributing to your organization's ennui? What, if

any, part have you played in perpetuating loss of hope? Do you emphasize the

positive? the possibilities? the potential? Acknowledge and manage your own

beliefs and assumptions before trying to influence others.

2. Choose the language of hope, not despair. Use words that convey optimism,

courage and success. Be on the look-out for and squelch blaming, second-

guessing, complaining, and, as Ben Zander would call them, "downwardly

spiralling conversations." Describe the vision of a better future in terms of the

advantages for the employees. Give them glimpses of how things will be different

and better for them.

3. Convey confidence in your team. Use positive self-fulfilling prophecy to state

and restate your belief in your team. Overcome listlessness by emphasizing and

recognizing important accomplishments; celebrating creative solutions. Even when

things are bumpy or enthusiasm wanes, maintain the energy and focus of the team

and continue to publicly state your confidence that your team can and will prevail.

4. Balance realities with possibilities. There may be a temptation to minimize

the seriousness of a situation, to minimize the challenges. Leaders should be very

careful in their zeal to overcome hopelessness to not sugar-coat or even pretend

problems don't exist; this seriously undermines a leader's credibility. Instead,

leaders should balance the realities with the possibilities. Clearly and candidly

acknowledging and explaining the obstacles is one side of the coin. The other,

equally important, is engaging people in creating possibilities and, in doing so,

creating hope.

People are far more engaged and productive when they see glimmers of hope for progress, improvement, and achieving a meaningful mission. The work of leaders is to provide those glimmers, to keep that hope of a bright future alive.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you experienced "organizational ennui? Describe what was happening?

  2. What is the "language of despair?" ]

  3. What are some of the ways leaders choose the language of hope and convey confidence?

  4. Do you agree that the work of leaders is to provide glimmers of hope? How can they balance/reconcile hope with reality?

  5. What are the implications for leaders? For you?

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