Leaders today need to be sources of hope. Never before has uncertainty and anxiety reigned in the world that is not at war. Our world is at war not with each other, but with ourselves. We battle constantly the feelings of despair, uncertainty, precariousness and distrust.
This reality of our times placed a new challenge on all levels of leadership. It does not matter if you lead a global multinational company, a military, a country, a school, a church, a family or a team – if, as a leader, you can become a source and translator of hope, the necessary vision will follow. But without hope, any vision runs the risk to be overwhelmed by despair.
Leaders lead people. Although this sounds like an oversimplified statement, it still seems as if this basic truth got lost somewhere along the way. Many leaders are obsessed with leading the cause, the vision, the goals, the numbers or the system. People are often forgotten or utterly neglected.
Having hope is an instinctive human need for survival.
During the US-Korean War of 1950-153, a strange phenomenon occurred.
Many US soldiers were captured and place in POW Camps. They were treated well, according to the Geneva Convention. There were no reports of torture or inhumane treatment. The amount of guards that guarded the camps were even much less than usually the case in POW Camps.
Still, up to this day, the amount of deaths in the Korean POW Camps were, per capita, more than any other POW Camp in modern history. Soldiers just seem to give up, and die. For no apparent reason. They will stop eating and fall ill. Even the attempted escapes – something expected of prisoners of war – were close to none.
After the war, this phenomenon was studied, and a very interesting observation was made, one that even leads to a new term being coined: “Give-up-itis”.ure that they controlled, and eventually broke the morale of the prisoners.
It was found that the Koreans, although they treated the prisoners according to wartime regulations, had another, sinister, strategy. They made very sure that they controlled, and eventually broke the morale of the prisoners. The way they did this was to constantly feed the prisoners with negative news and information and withhold the positive. The way they did this was to constantly feed the prisoners with negative news and information and withhold the positive. Over intercom systems, they would announce every day how the American Government gave up in the war, and that there was no chance of the war ending soon or the prisoners being rescued. They scanned the mail the prisoners received from home and redacted (blacked out) any positive or encouraging news in the letters. At the same time, they made sure that negative or discouraging news did reach the prisoners, like a girlfriend writing “I cannot wait for you any longer, I found someone else”, or a mother writing “Sadly, you father passed away.”
This broke the spirit of the inmates, and they simply lost hope, gave up, and… died.
Human beings cannot survive without hope.
We are currently not at war. But there are numerous challenges in the world that confronts our hope daily.
Still, up to this day, the number of deaths in the Korean POW Camps were, per capita, more than any other POW Camp in modern history. Soldiers just seem to give up and die. For no apparent reason. They will stop eating and fall ill. Even the attempted escapes – something expected of prisoners of war – were close to none.
Leaders play a central role in providing people with hope, on all levels of leadership.
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