Expert Opinion

Leadership and hope - how can leadership inspire hope?

Simon Robinson Professor of Applied and Professional Ethics, and Director of our Research Centre for Governance, Leadership and Global Responsibility, talks leadership and hope ahead of his talk, ‘You Haven’t Got a Hope in Hell’ at Leeds Business Week.

Peter Day, BBC business correspondent has suggested that we might be too obsessed with the charismatic leader.

And I think he is probably right. The word charisma means gift and the inference is that leaders who are charismatic are especially gifted, such that we are in awe of them- who else could do the job after all…

But therein lies the rub. Cutting to the chase I want to argue first that this is a child-like, i.e. immature, view of leadership, and second that this is the view that so often goes unchallenged in conversations about business leaders remuneration. Only this person could possibly do the job, which is why we have to pay him (sic) so much to keep him…….

And, of course, if we stay with this super-person then he will become the focus of hope. He will find the way forward, making money for shareholders and stakeholders, and making the world a better place. We must not be surprised then that, if hope is based in one person, we soon lose real hope in exchange for childish hope. Snyder, the positive psychologist, suggests that mature hope is really an active virtue which is based not just in setting up pathways to success but also in the development of agency or autonomy, and of the sense that what we are doing is of worth. This suggests that part of leadership is about helping people to take control of their own life in their work- owning their work life and valuing their work community, as part of their wider community.

The last thing that requires is a super-person, unless, that is, you think that treating colleagues like mature adults, who can be fully involved in steering the business, demands someone who is ‘superior’. But leadership for hope requires mutuality not superiority. And this requires helping colleagues to own the vision of the firm and so practice the virtue of hope- the capacity to envision the future of your endeavour as meaningful and worthwhile. All the great leadership speeches have this in spades, from Shakespeare’s Henry V to Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King. In the light of history we hold them in awe, but to their colleagues they were people who could be questioned and people who helped them to find hope.

Simon Robinson will explore this topic at Leeds Business Week at 10.00 hrs on 14 October 2015 at The Leeds Club, 3 Albion Place, Leeds, LS1 6JL.