How to Power Up Your Leadership

What are you hoping Father Christmas will bring?

This question from my childhood rings true at this time of year. I remember the excitement of possibility, the anticipation of what might be in my stocking or under the tree on Christmas Day.


It lifts the human spirit and helps us persevere in the face of challenge. Hope sees the positive future we can achieve if we keep moving forward, adjusting and adapting as needed. It buoys your energy, makes life seem worthwhile, and changes your day-to-day behaviour.

Hope brings together our head, our heart, and our hands as our rational and emotional selves combine to guide our actions.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope out there right now.

Research suggests that whilst 89% of us believe the future will be better than the present, only 50% believe that we can make it so. In a world that is increasingly challenging and complex, hope is often seen as soft, unrealistic, and pointless. However, in the world of science, hope is far more tangible.

Professor Rick Snyder, who developed Hope Theory and led much of the research in the field, defines hope as ‘the process of thinking about one’s goals, along with the motivation to move toward those goals (agency), and the ways to achieve those goals (pathways).’

Hope, according to Snyder’s model, involves three elements:

  1. Identifying ‘want to’ – as opposed to ‘have to’ – goals.
    This is called ‘goal thinking’ and it defines where you’re hoping to go.
  2. Developing specific pathways to reach those goals and make your hopes a reality. Scientists call this ‘pathways thinking’, but we can think of it simply as ‘way-power’. What’s the way forward to reach your goals?
  3. Generating and sustaining the motivation to use these pathways to fulfil your hopes. Scientists call this ‘agency thinking’, but we can think of it as ‘will-power’. How are you going to maintain the will to make your way possible and achieve your goals?

Rachel Colla, a PhD student I’m supervising at Melbourne University has just submitted her thesis in which she extends Snyder’s model beyond will-power and way-power. Her research has found that hope emerges from a system that also includes who-power, the relationships we have to inspire and support us and why-power, the meaning and purpose we see in the goals and actions we are taking.

(If this is something you’d like to understand more about, you can read more of her work here.)

It’s been an honour to walk alongside Rachel as she’s conducted this significant piece of research and theoretical development, and it makes such good sense that we need more than ‘will’ and ‘way’ for hope to emerge.

And this word ‘emerge’ is important. One of the key findings of Rachel’s thesis is that hope has an emergent quality that is always available to us – if we choose to access it.

When we do – as I did, looking forward to what Father Christmas might bring – we benefit from all the goodness hope brings.

For example, people with high hope support their goals with regular, committed action and creatively think of different strategies for working towards them. They understand that disappointments and challenges are a natural part of life and so persist in the face of these challenges.

Overall, they have a growth mindset. Researchers have found that hope plays a central role in driving persistence, motivation, goal setting, and innovation. In fact, a meta-analysis has found that, all other things being equal, hope leads to a 14% increase in productivity by making people feel more engaged and enthusiastic about work. That equates to about an hour a day for most of us. Now that’s worth investing in!

Importantly for us as leaders, hope also generates relational energy because people with high hope are interested not only in their own goals, but also in the goals of others. They are also able to take the perspective of others, and perceive themselves to have more social support, more social competence, and less loneliness. Win-win-win!

So, as you look forward to 2024, why not take a moment to ponder what you are hoping for?
The goals that you ‘want to’ achieve and the will-power, way-power, who-power and why-power that could support and enable you to get there.

Now that could be what a good use of your time looks like.

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