There’ll be times of despair, times of hope

The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. About 10 years ago, I wrote in my book Building Trust at the Speed of Change that:

“We…find ourselves at the mercy of forces beyond our control… we have lost a sense of community. We now live in a virtual workspace where relationships are defined by the transactions we must complete to get a task done….Perhaps the greatest casualty may be our self-confidence….the sense that people could change things for the better (has given) way to skepticism and even despair.”

With the ability to influence global economic forces, the environment, unemployment, technology, and change out of our reach, where does that leave us? How do we lead a workforce that may feel this despair, out of control, and even lacking self-confidence to do anything but hang on to their jobs?

It is a daunting challenge for leaders to try to conjure up hope in the face of despair. And yet that is what leaders must do. And not in a way that the charismatic leader might stand on stage and give an inspirational speech only to have the dawn take away that optimism. Nor is it the leader who doubles down on efficiency or productivity — that just dulls the edge of the soul.

Perhaps it is the authentic leaders who have looked deeply at themselves, know their own vulnerability and can speak it, understand their shadow side and can articulate it, and know defeat and can speak from that place. Perhaps it is the leaders who have shared of themselves with others from that place of despair that can help them empathize with those who may not be able to share theirs.

These are the leaders who can speak from their own depth what everyone else knows in their hearts to be true — that these are dismal times. These are the leaders who give us all hope. These are the women and men who can help co-create a different future.

And in that moment of truth, they can summon from their own experience the nuggets of hope that can give people something to hang onto — a belief in themselves; a knowledge that true change starts from within us; an understanding that we each have the opportunity to choose our own mindsets and behaviors. These are the strands of hope that can tie us together in a community of spirit, a community of hope that in the face of all that is happening around us, it is our humanity that has spoken, that has shown us that Joplin, Missouri can rebound; that rivers will recede; that new jobs can be created; that our workplaces can be fit for the human spirit.

In this space we find the essence of true leadership. In this space we find hope so that ten years from now, we are not repeating our past.

Edward M. Marshall, Ph.D. is a Senior Partner for Organizational Leadership at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC. He can be reached at, or 919.265.9616.