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Build hope at work

Updated: May 18, 2022

A good rule of thumb: If it was said in Shawshank Redemption, it's worth listening to.

"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of the things. And no good thing ever dies." -Stephen King (said by character Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption).

Great line from a great movie. 👍🎬

And how true! Without hope, what’s life all about?

Hope for Andy meant freedom - and it guides his mission throughout the movie. Hope guides our futures and can light our fires of passion and engagement for us as well.

This all sounds so fluffy and abstract. Let's be a bit more concrete now.

The power of hope at work

Build hope at work. Too fluffy for you? Well, you can’t fluff over the importance hope has in building an engaged and motivated workforce.

Among many things, researchers have found that:

  • Hope has health benefits. It not only feels good, it’s good for us. (Weir, Kirsten, 2013).

  • Hopeful people accomplish more at work than less hopeful people. (Journal of Positive Psychology, 2013).

  • High-hope people tend to have more goals and can quickly move forward when they fail. (Psychologist Randolph C. Arnau).

  • Hopeful organisations adapt to the changing world and needs of customers, employees, communities, stakeholders, and shareholders. (Deborah Mills-Scofield).

This isn’t about being Pollyanna and glossing over the realities of the day. It’s about being grounded in reality and hopeful for the future. This is known as Grounded Hope or the Stockdale Paradox.

Grounded Hope: The Stockdale Paradox

The name refers to James Stockdale, the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the American-Vietnam War.

Following his release, Admiral Stockdale described it like this:

Stockdale: I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which in retrospect, I would not trade. Interviewer: Who didn’t make it out? Stockdale: “Oh, that’s easy. The optimists. They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Basically – be realistic - and keep the faith. Hope survives when people believe the outcome can be achieved.

Building hope as a leader

Gallup research shows that in order to follow a leader, people need four pillars: trust, compassion, stability, hope. Fundamentally we need to trust and connect with the person, feel they care about and value us, have stability and consistency in the present, and hope for the future.

  • Trust – believe in their character and that they’ll do what they say they will.

  • Compassion – knowing they care about you as a person.

  • Stability – clarity, transparency, and consistency in what’s expected.

  • Hope – passion, excitement for the purpose, vision and future.

Dr. Shane Lopez, a senior scientist at Gallup, provided this brilliant description of hope:

"Hope is the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so."

Hope is multi-faceted

What does hope look like at work? Here are a few ways you can approach this in your workplace:

  1. Role based - development, growth, and progression in your role.

  2. Personal career path - connecting what you do now to what you want to do in the future.

  3. Team - bringing people together to deliver better results for the individual + teams, in line with the overall organisation's goals.

  4. Organisational - belief and getting behind what your organisation is doing and where you're going.

1. Role based hope

This looks like role development, bringing mastery and continuous improvement into the role expectations.

Actions leaders can take to build role-based hope

  • Organise continuous training / mentoring within the team (partnering seniors and new starts).

  • Line of sight from individual to team success.

  • Opportunities / delegation to progress.

  • Clear expectations, roles and responsibilities.

  • Realistic yet challenging goals.

2. Career path hope

We all have a personal and unique career path. What we do, why we do it, where we want to go – that’s all individual. But there are a few commonalities: We want to know we’re on the right track. We want to know we’re taking steps towards our goal. We want to enjoy what we do and who we do it with.

Actions leaders can take to build career path hope

  • Regular 1:1’s reflecting on development, goals, and outcomes.

  • Be explicit on finding connections between their role and their goals.

  • Being honest in your assessments, and support the person to fill in gaps.

  • Set up coaching / mentoring within the team or business unit.

  • Identify opportunities (inside or outside of your team) which would benefit your team members.

  • Delegate work! Let the strengths of the team members shine. Check out our 4 steps to better delegation approach to help with this.

3. Team hope

Hope within a team is what unites, focuses and engages them. It draws people together to work on something bigger than the individual.

"If, as a leader, you are not creating hope and helping people see the way forward, chances are, no one else is either." – Strengths-based Leadership

Actions leaders can take to build team hope

  • Build grounded hope: Recognise the reality of where the team is at and where you expect the team to be in the future. Then help them understand the steps to get there.

  • Recognise the challenges and frustrations of the team. Don’t gloss over these – listen and empathise. Then, co-create solutions with the team.

  • Make space for individuals to share their strengths and get to know their teammates’ strengths. (Assessments like GallupStrengths, DiSC, TMP help here)

  • Connect individual / team strengths to the team’s purpose and goals.

  • Daily stand-ups in the morning to check-in on how the team is feeling and set the scene for the team.

  • Make room for fun, humour, and team building.

  • Create team metrics that motivate and have impact. Be clear on what these measurements are and what behaviours they drive.

  • Frame things with a positive, solutions-focused mindset. Brian Brim provides the following example of framing:

Hope doesn't always have to be about a faraway future. It can be about the here and now as well. Hope can come to life in the way that we perceive the challenges we face. I once observed two managers explaining the same situation -- a drawdown of temp workers in their part of the business -- to two different teams. One manager stood up and said, "Here we go again. The company is asking us to do more with less." This created grumbling and a true lack of hope in the room. The second leader stood up and said, "Here is our chance. We now have the opportunity to show the company what we can really do." The team was immediately excited and hopeful that this was a chance to create a better way forward.

4. Organisational hope

Connect individuals and the team to the organisation's purpose and goals.

Actions leaders can take to build organisational hope

  • Humanise the customer: reinforce their needs, your value and the positive impact your work has on them.

  • Clear line of sight between the team / directorate role and the overall organisation. Download our Line of Sight activity to complete with your team.

  • Communicate and discuss the organisation’s goals/purpose and the strategy for getting there.

  • Reflect on how your team / individuals live the organisational values. Connect the organisation’s values to the individuals in your team.

So, what will you do to strengthen hope at work?

As said in Shawshank Redemption, "Get busy living or get busy dying."

Got some ideas? Great! Now get busy.


Align Group. “Building HOPE at the workplace.” August 31, 2017.

Brim, Brian J. “Strengths Based Leadership: Building hope in followers.” CliftonStrengths: Gallup, September 1, 2016. -

HR Strategies. “Inspiring hope in the workplace.” February 21, 2020.

InspireOne. “5 Easy Steps To Build Hope, Energy, Resilience, And Optimism In Your EmployeesMarch 31, 2021.

Kravetz, Daniel Lee. “Facing Adversity Through Building Resilience: A Guide to Grounded Hope." OptionB. Published 2016.

Mills-Scofield, Deborah. “Hope Is a Strategy (Well, Sort Of).” Harvard Business Review. October 09, 2012.

Weir, Kirsten. Mission impossible. Monitor on Psychology, 44(9). October 2013.


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