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John Maxwell: How to be a Dealer in Hope

I've learned a lot of lessons throughout my years teaching leadership. I would like to share one of these with you: how to be a dealer in hope.

I was signing books at a crowded convention recently, and a lady came up to me, handed me her book to sign and said, “For the last eight years, I’ve been reading your books and have been following the teachings you’ve given me—a wonderful gift and I’m grateful.” After asking her what gift I had given her, with big tears in her eyes, she said, “Hope.” She said when she reads my books, they give her hope.

The experience reminded me of what Napoleon said: “Leaders are dealers in hope.”

Indeed, one of the most powerful, energizing words in the English language is the word hope. Hope is a power that keeps us going in the toughest times of life. It’s a power that energizes us with excitement and anticipation as we look forward to the future.

Hope gives us reason to live. It takes obstacles and transforms them into possibilities. Hope gives us the strength and the courage we need to make the most of life. Those early experiences convinced me that the best way to help people is to give them hope. So I have decided to be a hope dealer for others.

In 1979, 10 years after learning this lesson, I wrote the following words in my first book, Think on These Things:

What does hope do for mankind? Hope shines brightest when the hour is darkest. Hope motivates when discouragement comes. Hope energizes when the body is tired. Hope sweetens when the bitterness bites. Hope sings when all melodies are gone. Hope believes when the evidence is eliminated. Hope listens for answers when no one is talking. Hope climbs over obstacles when no one is helping. Hope endures hardship when no one is caring. Hope smiles confidently when no one is laughing. Hope reaches for answers when no one is asking. Hope presses toward victory when no one is encouraging. Hope dares to give when no one is sharing.

Hope brings the victory when no one is winning.

There is nothing to do but bury a man when his hopes are gone. Losing hope usually precedes loss of life itself. You don’t need a better environment; you need more hope. It’s the one thing in your life you cannot do without.

John W. Gardner said, “The fi rst and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive—the hope that we can finally find our way through to a better world—despite the day’s action, despite our own inertness, shallowness and wavering resolve.”

Leaders help people believe the impossible is possible, which makes it highly probable. Bob Eaton, a former chairman and CEO of Daimler-Chrysler Corporation said, “A leader is someone who can take a group of people to a place they don’t think they can go.”

How do leaders offer hope to people?

No. 1: Help people change their way of thinking. Hope can only become a reality if you can help people change how they think if they think negatively.

No. 2: Help them win some small victories. Positive thinking must be followed by positive doing. Nothing succeeds like success. High morale is a result of winning a few small victories but sensing bigger victories are within our grasp.

In Jonathon Sacks’ book The Dignity of Difference, he said, “One of the most important distinctions I have learned in the course of reflection on Jewish history is the difference between optimism and hope.

Optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the faith that, together, we can make things better.”

Optimism is a passive virtue; hope, an active one. It takes no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to have hope.

No. 3: Express sincerely your belief in them and their future. Allan Cox wrote the following in his book The Making of the Achiever:

Washington Irving once wrote, ‘Great minds have purposes; others have wishes.’ His insight leads to the realization that without expectancy we lack purpose. Achievers, in particular, exhibit this attitude of expectancy. This shows itself most forcefully in the way they minimize their losses. They did not grieve over failures or what might have been. Rather, the achiever looks around the corner in anticipation of good things that await him. All he has to do, he believes, is show the determination to get there.

He rejects the notion of ‘can’t,’ and, as a result, he is able to open more doors than others, strike better deals, and attract more energetic and resourceful people to work with him. He sets higher standards and gets others to help him meet them. He wins confidence and nurtures vitality in others. He expects to succeed when, combined with desire, expectancy produces hope. And hope makes all things possible. Living the expectant life is simply a good act of judgment.

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