Guest Post – The Practice of Hope in Times of Change Matters
Drs. Jeanie Cockell and Joan McArthur-Blair provide this post, an excerpt from Building Resilience with Appreciateive Inquiry from the authors.
Change is a constant for leaders in all walks of life and is often prompted by crisis, financial or organizational. In building the practice of hope and a hopeful view, leaders need to face what is happening and yet inspire people in order to move toward a better future. This practice of hope pulls the crisis of the past into the possibility of the future. One leader we interviewed told an amazing story about hope and how at times, as leaders, we must acknowledge the past and our fears, and still inspire people for the future:
Hope should have filled the air. It was late August, always an exciting time of year as we welcome new students and faculty and kick off another academic year. I had served the college for twenty-six years in a variety of faculty and administrative roles, but this year was my first as president. I wanted nothing more than to walk in to our opening-day meeting and inspire the college community with an exciting vision for the future.
But times were hard. The college was experiencing an alarming decline in enrollment and, along with it, a dramatic drop in revenue. As I thought about what I would say on that opening day, I had more questions than answers. How do I create excitement about the future in a time of tremendous difficulty? Could we survive without layoffs for the first time in the college’s history? How should we change and grow and prosper? What could I say as an old colleague and a new president to inspire hope for the future? People were depending on me for leadership, inspiration, and vision. I felt like it was our time and we needed to move, but how?
One afternoon that summer, as these questions were swimming in my brain, I was enjoying a video with my children. One particular scene in this film seemed to be speaking directly to me. As I listened to the dialogue about a character who was struggling with returning home and facing the past, it struck home for me that we at the college needed to both hold to the past and face the future. Change was coming. We needed a new beginning, a way to collectively envision our future while, at the same time, addressing unprecedented challenges. In the movie, the character thought he was afraid to return to his past, but he was really afraid of his future. In the end, he embraced his future, just as our college had to embrace its future. I had dreams for what our college could become. As the new president, I knew it was vital that I convey my core belief that change is good. Out of this core belief, I came to recognize the intimate connection between change and hope, that hope is nested in change, and within hope is the fuel and energy to move us with passion toward an exciting future.
I told the story of watching the movie with my children at that opening-day meeting, and change became a hallmark of my early presidency. We came out of that financial crisis as a much stronger college focused on the success of our students. Little did I know at the time how a character in a kid’s movie would crystallize for me the importance of change and the connection between change and hope.
This leader’s story speaks to the power of story to inspire people to change in response to a crisis. The president used the story of watching the movie with his children to inspire the members of the institution and enable them to face together what needed to be faced. Hope shared is all the more powerful in its energy.
About the authors
Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair, co-presidents of leadership consulting firm Cockell McArthur-Blair Consulting, are the co-authors of Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry. The veteran consultants’ latest book explores how leaders can use the practice of Appreciative Inquiry to weather the storms they’ll inevitably encounter and be resilient.