Hope and Fear

So it’s nearly Christmas – the time of year when much of the western world shuts up shop and takes a few days, or even weeks, to… do what exactly?

I decided to pick on this theme of hope and fear since I’m coming to question what it is we actually do over Christmas. Why do we buy so many presents? Are we afraid of not being really loved by the people we are giving them to? Do we fear that our children won’t love us if we don’t shower them with gifts? Are we anxious that they will be ostracised in the playground or by their peers if they don’t have the latest gadget or toy?

And the food?! Is it a fear of being accused of not serving up a sufficiently sumptuous feast? Of possibly forgetting someone’s favourite savoury and sweet treat and be assumed that we are slighting them?

I don’t know the answers, but as I look around me I can’t help but think we have lost sight of hope. And I see that loss of hope more and more, both in the workplace and in the wider world. I know we face some very real threats, but if we allow fear to drive our responses then we are lost – and we will lose hope too.

So many workplace process and procedures are born from the fear of what ‘they’ might do if ‘we’ don’t restrict their access or permissions or freedoms. Or because we are told by someone in head office that ‘they’ will sue us or we’ll get taken to court if we do – or don’t – do this or that. That may well be true, but the direction – the leadership – is rooted in fear. What begins with a desire for compliance can so easily become more concerned with controlling or censoring. The result is a mindset that prefers to forbid than encourage. Wouldn’t it be better to hope that ‘they’ will step up to the challenge of delivering our purpose sensibly? Wouldn’t it send a message of trust rather than suspicion?

What makes fear so insidious is that it is often anchored in some very sensible risk management. Logic often drives us down this path: it’s surprisingly – and perhaps depressingly – easy to marshal some very real and sensible arguments that say we have to put in place policy or procedures that say DON’T. Yes, there are very real risks of financial or reputational loss, or of being sued – but the incidences are rare. And if we allow the logic of fear to drive us, we lose the joy and inspiration and the sense of engagement in the work we do. We lose sight of the purpose we are seeking to fulfil, and we forego the energy of our co-workers.

So what of hope. I don’t mean a desire for something – which is often materialism or greed in disguise, or a delusion. I mean the ‘grounds for believing that something good may happen’. Hope is when we believe in something: in the abilities of our co-workers, their good hearts and their desire that we succeed together, and in the essence of humanity that enables us to support and nurture each other. The belief that there is a better place that we can reach, build or achieve together.

Leading from a position of hope doesn’t mean casting aside good risk management: that would be foolish and unnecessary. But it is about framing policy and process – and values, cultures and relationships – in the belief that people will do the right thing, with just enough sensible risk management in place in case they don’t.

While a policy framed from fear and a policy framed from hope with good risk management may be superficially similar, they are profoundly different – especially in the ways that they are acted out in the context of working relationships. And that difference will be felt all too clearly by those that work with and abide by those policies.

When you look around your organisation, call out the fear and deal in hope instead. If you believe in the best of people, you might just be surprised. People, it has been shown, live to the expectations that others have of them. Hope for the best and you will get it: fear the worst and you will get that instead!

So this Christmas, stop and reflect on what you are doing. Don’t be driven by fear: deal in hope and have a truly joyous time.