Hope does not come from making guarantees or promises, especially those you can’t keep.
Many leaders, failing to manage their own anxiety, reflexively make commitments with the intention of offering people reassurance. In the face of dire economic uncertainty, layoffs, and swirling cyclones of conflicting information, people are fearful, and leaders understandably want to allay those fears. Reasonable leaders know that making promises you later break is cruel under these conditions. Trying to be measured, leaders instead say things like, “I wish I could tell you when this was all going to end,” or “This is the best information I have right now,” and some even attempt presumptuous empathy with statements like, “I know how stressful this must be.” But efforts to balance restraint and comfort can have the unintended consequence of missing the perfect opportunity to offer hope.
Hope is not mere positivity that eliminates fear and anxiety. Born of a genuine sense of compassion, leaders want to quell people’s negative emotions. But they know that just layering “positive emotions” on top of them could make things worse. Positivity is not hope, and when optimism is misused, leaders appear out of touch, insincere, and aloof. Unfortunately, to avoid looking Pollyannaish, or worse, condescending, leaders are just sticking to the facts, curbing the very humanity that is their greatest source of hope.