Leaders: Don’t forget the Hope

In my line of work, finding the ultimate definition of leadership is to find the holy grail.

I’ve heard an assortment of good definitions over the years, but during a mid-May interview with USA Today, AMEX CEO Kenneth Chenault came up with the best one I’ve heard so far.

For his definition, he took words from a leader who experienced great success and failure — Napoleon: “The role of a leader is to define reality and give hope.”

That’s a GREAT way of thinking about leadership. This simple definition gives you two clear mandates to carefully balance: Reality (the way things are) and Hope (the way things can be). By focusing on both, you are able to be candid, yet inspirational.

Leaders who, like Chenault, follow this credo will hit their financial goals, and build an emotionally sustainable business along the way. Without hope, you have follower burn out and revolt. Without reality, you have idealism and no results.

So the trick to leadership, then, is balance and not just vision or charisma. Is hope part of the emotional comp plan for the people that work for you or follow you? Are you the reality king/queen or the ‘big idea person’? You’ve got to own both of those roles to succeed.