Leaders are Dealers in Hope
A well-articulated vision will be powerful enough to give hope to those who believe it....
“Real authority comes from authentic confidence which can only be built through competence.”
Napoleon Bonaparte once said that “leaders are dealers in hope”. The role of a leader is to articulate a vision, a destination, then to encourage the actions that will be required to reach that goal. Hope, if it is anything, is the belief that there is something to look forward to. A well-articulated vision will be powerful enough to give hope to those who believe it.
Hope is a tricky thing. If it is deferred, it makes the heart sick with despair. That is why leadership is not as simple as offering any old story to your followers. True leadership is crafting a narrative about the world that can be striven towards, tangible goals with timelines and clear explanations for any circumstance when these goals are not met. Hope is not an ethereal thing. It is a form of trust. People will trust leaders who get results and swiftly lose their hope and direction when leaders make promises that they fail to deliver on.
Many people want to be in charge. Most ambitious people strive for a certain position because they believe that position grants authority. This is the wrong way to think of power and authority and arguably the cause for the phrase “absolute power corrupting absolutely” being a popular truism. A parent telling their child that they must obey because they are the parent does not inspire a child’s confidence. A parent who works hard to explain the rationale for decision making not only inspires confidence, they prepare that child for the future. Real authority comes from authentic confidence and that kind of confidence can only be built through competence.
The tension between competence and inspiration should not deter leaders from producing comprehensive and detailed visions of what our future can look like. This is the task of a leader, to develop the plan on how to achieve the vision as well as the vision itself. Trust and confidence in leadership will be determined by the regular success at achieving clear short term objectives with the overall goal of reaching the long term goal. Too often leaders do not understand the importance of giving their followers tangible evidence of progress. This leads to the eventual death of vision.
“In order to truly live, it is necessary to find something that you are willing to die to protect.”
In the Ridley Scott movie Gladiator, Maximus, before dying on the sands of the Colosseum, uses his final words to say, “Quitas! Release my men. There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized. These are the wishes of Marcus Aurelius.” The audience is captivated by the nobility of this life, but what does the screenwriter make Maximus’ first concern? The well-being of his men. The same was said of Marius, Sulla, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon. Their troops loved them and died for them by the tens of thousands in acts of unquestionable bravery and through conditions unfathomable to us. They fought and died for leaders who could articulate a dream but more importantly for someone they believed was looking out for their best interest.
This is why the ideologies of the left are so attractive to people. It is difficult to advocate for personal responsibility, sacrifice, and the inevitably of suffering versus free stuff and safety from hardship. The human animal constantly strives to be as comfortable as possible. Before the industrial revolution this was not nearly the problem that it is today. Comfort was not the enemy of our ancestors, starvation was. Comfort was so rare and difficult to obtain that it belonged to a tiny fraction of the population and did not factor into the overwhelming majority of human experience. The abundance our innovations have created has left us soft and depressed.
This is when we must reflect on the middle of Maximus’ final words, “there was a dream that was Rome”. What causes have people believed in so strongly that they were willing to forfeit their lives for it? Certainly not their own comfort. Dying is, after all, generally an uncomfortable experience. We lay down our lives for things we value more than our own life. It is in the creation and or understanding of these kinds of ideas where truly inspirational leadership is born. This is also where meaning for the individual is found. In order to truly live, it is necessary to find something you are willing to die to protect.
Historically people have died for a vast array of causes, religions, ideologies, or values. Whether it is in the primal defense of their offspring or the Four Noble Truths; humans have consistently thrown away their own lives in the service of something else. Not long ago, these were the people that were venerated. Our heroes were always those of us who loved something more than life itself. Now our stories and the identities we cling to are shallow. We create safe spaces to protect people from microaggressions. People are not willing to even risk death anymore. We have been coddled into a false sense of security and in the process have become more anxious and miserable. The contrast is stark. We have lost our way.
If there was a dream that was “Rome” once, then it has been lost. Humanity as a species has given up the vocation of impossible dreams and settled for comfort. We need to collectively demand better. Better values, a better vision for the future, a better narrative to tell the world. Let history remember us as leaders who tried their best to deal in hope.