One of the best employee associates I ever had was a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel. I have always loved working with military people. Their training firmly builds within them a “can do” mentality and a fixation on mission objectives. This one was no different. My retired officer/employee could always be depended upon to get the jobs out the door and focus on billable hours. He often said, when discussing business, that “Hope is not a valid strategy.”
Hope, when used as a strategy, dooms us to failure because it is so fuzzy. Fuzzy thinking has a place in formulating vision, but it has no place in strategic planning. That facet of the leadership process demands clear headedness and cold acceptance of reality.
But that can incline us towards pessimism. I mean, simply looking at the size of a task, the complexity of the issue, or the ingrained habits of a group can overwhelm us. Watching the news does the same thing.
Here are 5 reasons why hope cannot be a strategy. Following this list, I’ll show you the reasons why hope is, nonetheless, an essential attitude.
Why hope cannot be a strategy:
- It encourages sloppy thinking. Hope as a strategy rounds off the corners of life’s sharp edges. It edits the images we see so that only those “proofs” that prove our preconceived notions are seen and accepted. Look at the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin minted by the Treasury Department. Every focus group, every study, every analysis showed the coin to be too near the size of a quarter and therefore confusing to the public. But those who wanted the coin ignored the evidence and went ahead with a disastrous launch of a coin that never found acceptance by the public.
- It tends to ignore the past or at least minimize its lessons. This is just plain stupid. I once attended a pastor’s conference where the invocation prayer proved to be one of the best presentations of the entire event. The pastor opening the event prayed, “God, let us make new mistakes. We are tired of making the same mistakes over and over and over again.”
- It tends to promote delusional thinking. On a small scale, but one that demonstrates this, there is an author in my community who has written a book of her life’s story, focusing on its hardships and how she overcame them. Well, somewhat. I’ve read the book and it is badly written, sketchy at best, and desperate for the skilled eyes of an editor. The author hired one of the many “publishing” companies that has sprung up in recent years to publish and distribute her book to whom she paid a princely sum. I saw her just a few days ago and asked her how it was going. She had no idea but she “hoped” it would do well. She told me she intended to make enough from the sales of her book to live in ease and comfort. As one who’s been in the writing and publishing business for decades I can assure you she will be lucky to recover even a portion of what she paid the company to publish her book. At the risk of sounding insensitive, it really is a badly written book of no interest to anyone except her family or her generous and forgiving friends. Had she examined the market, studied what makes a successful book, learned how books are marketed these days, accepted the realities of independent publishing, and examined what the profit realities are for 99% of authors (almost none which is why most have a day job, too), her chances would be better. Not great, but better. But, delusion is a powerful force, one that has charmed her into a level of fantasy that will be either disappointing to her or one worse. That brings me to point #4.
- Hope, when used as a strategy, rejects facts, glosses over evidence, and believes what it wants to believe because it wants to believe so therefore it must be true. This is where we begin to distinguish between hope as an attitude and hope as a strategy. I’ll address hope as an attitude on Monday and I do indeed consider it to be a vital component in the tool chest of an effective leader. But positive thinking in and of itself is incredibly damaging. I’ve written about this on my other blog here and here so I won’t repeat it in this post. Hope, when used as a replacement for sound judgment is deadly.
- It inflates the positives, deflates the negatives, and therefore clouds the faculty to make intelligent decisions and take intelligent action. The result is most often discouraging, defeating, or even disastrous. We must have sound judgment supported by honest motives and our willing acceptance of the facts as they are. Strategic thinking is creative thinking at its most useful level. Creative thinking has three components, particularly when it comes to our need to creatively make strategic plans to propel our department, team, company, or organization towards its vision.
- Component #1 – A must equal A. A cannot equal be and must not equal whatever you want it ti. Creative thinkers discover reality and accept it as the place to begin. Those who substitute hope do not. They ignore the facts, minimize their importance, and/or rationalize away their validity. Anyone remember how I’ve defined “rationalize?” It is to tell yourself rational sounding lies and believe them regardless of the facts.
- Component #2 – The law of cause and effect. The decisions we make and the actions we take cause things to happen, not happen, or fall apart. The effects of those decisions and are caused by something. Hope as a strategy ignores this reality, clouds over the causes, and explains away their effects.
- Component #3 – The principle of influence. You are a powerful figure in your setting. You may not know this. You may not understand this. You may even be baffled by it. But I can assure you that when you talk, when you make decisions, others listen. You have influence. That is the essence of leadership, the capacity to affect what others think and do. Hope as a strategy tends to numbify others, to coin a term. Because your circle of concern is always greater than your circle of ability, and because you must have the active and intelligent cooperation of others to reach the noble and grand objectives now incarnated as vision, you need to capitalize on your influence. Hope, when used strategically, tends to dull the senses, and relax the sharp attention of others. You want to be carefully tuned to your circumstances and you need others to be so as well.
Up next? Why hope may be a bad strategic device but is a critical attitude. Stay tuned.