Recently, I heard a keynote presentation by Dr. Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert on U.S. foreign policy, international security, and globalization. Fully expecting to be overwhelmed by this expert’s analyses of our troubled world, I was relieved when he actually started off with “dessert”—talking about what’s good about what’s going on in the world today.
Dr. Haass began his remarks by pointing out that we are in fewer wars and conflicts than ever in our world’s history. In addition, he gave us—Americans—hope that no single, huge enemy is lurking “out there” that we need to fear or deal with head-on. He did, however, talk about the significant challenges we as a nation are facing and at the same time encouraged feelings of hope for the future, in spite of how complex and truly immense the problems are.
By starting with “dessert,” Dr. Haass immediately captivated me. At once, I became engaged as I listened to him ardently reveal his vision, his dreams and expectations. I couldn’t help but think about the parallel between how Haass was delivering his message and what leaders do every day.
The Leadership Challenge co-authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner discovered—in their more than twenty-five years of research on what people do when they are at their personal best leading others—that being forward-looking is the leadership quality that “most distinguishes leaders from other credible people.” Leaders need to have visions of what is possible and to do this, in a sense, they have to look backward. They have to get a clear image of what they want the end result to be before they start a project—like starting with dessert. Anticipation of what’s coming moves them forward. Then they need to use heart-felt, compelling language, enthusiasm and optimism to enlist their constituents in what they are doing, or to put it in the words of Kouzes and Posner, they need to “Inspire a Shared Vision,” one of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.
One of the most important jobs a leader has is to keep hope alive, even during difficult times. Dr. Haass delivered a message of hope. Another leader, often described as one of the greatest military leaders in history, Napoleon Bonaparte, once said (in French), “A leader is a dealer in hope.”
Have you dispensed your daily dose of hope today? If not, my suggestion is: Your recipients might find it especially enticing if you start with dessert!