Hope versus Hype
Giving Motivation Without Manipulation

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On June 4, 1940 Winston Churchill rose in Westminster Parliament to deliver what became one of his most celebrated speeches to the House of Commons and the people of Britain.

On the same day, the last allied soldier arrived home from France at the end of a 10-day operation to rescue hundreds of thousands of retreating allied troops trapped by the German Army. In moving language, the Prime Minister described the "miracle of deliverance" from Dunkirk.

One part of his speech still resonates in the hearts of people in many parts of the world. While other states had fallen into ‘the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule,’ he said, ‘we shall flag or fail.’ He continued:

‘We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be... we shall never surrender...’

Somehow, Churchill managed to make retreat sound like something of a moral victory. His words were inspiring; they struck a tone of stubborn defiance. Yet Churchill made no attempt to gild the lily. He warned of an impending invasion of Britain and what it would mean for the nation and the free world.

As a leader, he knew how to motivate his people without manipulating them with false promises or commitments that he couldn’t possibly keep.

He openly articulated the challenges ahead, but presented the situation as an opportunity for the nation to show its true mettle. 

Churchill gave people hope without descending into hype. He offered people more than empty platitudes or positive-sounding but largely empty sound-bytes; he offered them hopeful honesty.

In our own tough economic times, some managers seem unable to do this. They seem to mistake hype for hope. They present people with only half-honest assessments of the challenges ahead, which only insult people’s intelligence and, in the end, invite cynicism and disloyalty.

In talking to their teams they reach for the hackneyed cliché, or recycle tired ideas they’ve picked up from high-powered motivational speakers, instead of articulating challenges, inviting creative responses and inspiring confidence in the process.

Hype may have value in producing a momentary catharsis, a temporary euphoria, but it does nothing to inspire determination, audacity or persistence. The difference between emotional hype and hope is the difference between manipulation and motivation.

Without doubt, emotion represents an important change catalyst. In fact, it is arguable that without emotion there is no change.  

A manager who has not learned how to maintain and channel deeply held convictions, will never inspire either confidence or loyalty. Yet emotion alone isn’t enough to produce lasting and constructive change.

What is needed is motive – people need a reason to pursue change and one that is strong enough to inspire them against the odds. 

This is the core of leadership motivation. Essentially, motivation is providing people with the right motive for taking a certain course of action.

While hype can be based on little more than shallow platitudes, motivation channels heart-felt conviction combined with well considered strategies in response to honestly described problems.

Hype may sugar-coat a bitter-tasting pill, but motivation shows the benefits of swallowing the pill and moving on. It also celebrates and affirms the courage that this may require in people.

In times of economic strain, people need to feel that they’re being treated as thinking adults, not small children. In the face of challenges, people need to feel that their managers are entrusting them with unvarnished and up-to-date information.

There are times when a management speech will inspire motivation – provided it is more than a ‘pep-talk’ filled with false hope. Yet there are more effective ways to motivate people, methods that help to fuse motivation into the very core of the team’s DNA.

According to Sigmund Freud, one of the major causes of human anxiety is what he called ‘social aggravation’, the ability of groups of people to talk themselves into a collective state of fear.

Language is an important reflector of cultural values. Language also reinforces culture; if people talk a certain way long enough, their thinking aligns with their conversation. That’s true on a national level and it’s true within businesses.

Yet some managers are totally ignorant of the conversations taking place around their office water cooler and the tone those conversations are setting for the enterprise as a whole.

Many studies into human sociability have shown how susceptible we are to the power of suggestion. Recent research shows that peer pressure has as much impact on adults as it does on adolescents.

This research is into positive peer pressure is the basis of the so-called ‘nudge power’, which is now so beloved of marketers and politicians alike.

Nudge power tries to shift people’s perceptions about what others are doing in order to guide them toward new norms and healthier forms of behaviour.

In recent times, peer pressure has nudged public attitudes to shift when it comes to such pressing issues as AIDS infection and climate change.

Wise managers will find ways to nudge their team members in certain directions, using language as a starting point. The will regularly monitor the words and phrases people are using in the work space, asking certain questions.

Are the most common words and phrases reinforcing or working against the type of culture that will lead to problem-solving? 

Another way to reinforce hope and creativity in the face of challenges is by offering people the right heroes. All cultures, whether national, regional or organizational, are partly defined by the individuals and groups they revere.

Wise management is always on the look-out for individuals or groups of people who’ve met challenges similar to those faced by their own team and who have produced audacious and innovative response.

If you’re a manager, the people you elevate will be the ones your team will seek to emulate.

Creating a culture of confidence in the face of challenge is also a matter of commemorating the right events. Cultures the world over celebrate or memorialize certain events in their national stories.

As an Australian, I am keenly aware of the significance of the Anzac Day holiday in my homeland. Even though I’ve lived in Europe for 17 years, the ideals it celebrates remain special to me – those of self-sacrificing mateship and brave camaraderie in times of crisis.

Whenever Australians or New Zealanders commemorate Anzac Day, they not only celebrate those values, they reinforce them within the culture.

Wise managers look for events to mark on the calendar, events that say something about the culture they’re trying to create.

Compared to presenting what is often called a ‘motivational talk’, these methods represent a much more subtle approach to lifting confidence.

In the long run they are also much more productive, because they reinforce motives rather than relying on emotion alone to produce change.



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