Easter reminds us that the darkest night can be followed by a new day. Hatred can be transformed by love. Evil can be overcome. Fallen humanity can be redeemed. Betrayal, denial and cowardice can give way to forgiveness, restoration and courage.
Our world is in desperate need of leaders who have a hope-filled vision for the future. Since the rise of global terrorism, we have seen an increasing number of politicians who seek support by appealing to people’s fears. (1) Such leadership focuses more on threat than opportunity. It polarises rather than unites. It is adversarial rather than reconciling.
Leading with hope in a climate of fear
In a climate of fear it is easier to exercise caution than to demonstrate compassion, to prefer safety to generosity, to exclude difference rather than embrace diversity.
Inspiring leadership responds to these tensions by offering hope instead of magnifying fear. It requires courage and wisdom to acknowledge uncertainty while pointing beyond it to a better future. So, how is this achieved?
Firstly, by facing the facts . It is important to identify and validate the legitimate concerns, which provoke fear or create uncertainty. Minimising or denying these damages a leader’s credibility. It implies either an ignorance of the truth or an unwillingness to face reality.
It insults people’s intelligence and undermines their confidence in the competence or integrity of leadership. It is the very reason most voters detest political “spin”.
However, facing the facts is not enough . Not only are there varying impressions of the “facts” but also differing responses to them. The facts can intimidate or inspire us. Fear can energise or paralyse us, depending on its source and our response.(2)
Inspiring leadership faces the facts but isn’t daunted by them. It embraces complexity and uncertainty. It works co-operatively with others to find a way forward. It refuses to give in to weariness and discouragement.
Instead, it perseveres in the company of others, or as a lone voice, towards a better future. Such a journey is costly, painful and often lonely.
Journeying through fear and uncertainty exposes the character and convictions of a leader.
In a climate of fear we can be a thermostat or a thermometer. The former influences its environment, while the latter simply reflects it.
Courageous leadership will do more than just tell people what they want to hear. It will offer them what they need to hear. Instead of reinforcing fear and compounding prejudice it will call people to a higher view of themselves and others. It will invite them to pursue unity and peace with generosity and compassion.
To last the distance of this journey requires sustaining energy.
So, what is it that will keep you going?
The answer is “hope”. Ultimately, a leader is a “dealer in hope”. (3) Unless you believe in the possibility of a better future you have little to offer others as a leader.
For me, this hope comes from the conviction that there is more to life than meets the eye. As I open myself up to God’s love I am empowered to love beyond my own limited capacity. I find myself praying for and experiencing God’s guiding presence in my life. I see it in the world around me. It is a presence, which is stronger than fear and prejudice. In Christ it has overcome the worst of human hostility, division and death. It offers hope and life both now and for the future.(4)
What sustains you in hope?
1. The BBC documentary, “The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (2004)” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0430484/ unpacks the changing political landscape which has given rise to the “politics of fear”.
2. Eugene Peterson – Living the Resurrection
3. Napoleon Bonaparte
4. Inspired by Romans 5:1-5