Talent isn’t Enough

When we live with Active Hope, we have a vision for the future AND the discipline to make that vision a reality. We understand that the idea alone isn’t enough. Our Active Hope gives us focus.

Talent alone isn’t enough; education isn’t enough. There are many educated, talented individuals who are unsuccessful. Active hope is a North Star; active hope provides the discipline to remain focused on the vision.

We all have dreams – visions of what we want in the future. Some of our goals are simply wishes, and that’s natural. It’s natural to dream of winning the Mega Millions and owning your island in the Caribbean. Having a vision for your future and embracing the discipline needed to make that hope a reality is also natural.  

As educators, we cultivate a vision of endless possibilities for our students, teach them that discipline is required for future success, and instill in each student the understanding that earning success requires work and focus.

Passive Hope vs Active Hope

My friend and mentor Tim Kight recently shared a distinction between passive hope and active hope by saying, “Passive hope wishes for something and then waits to see what happens. It wants, but it doesn’t work. Active hope, on the other hand, clarifies a desired future, and then takes disciplined action to achieve that future.”

As school leaders, we must teach students that “wanting” something doesn’t make it happen. If a student “wants” to attend Ohio State or “wants” to become a cyber security expert, the vision is excellent, but more is required to make the wish a reality.

We teach students to “do the work.” Making dreams come true doesn’t happen with pixie dust. Dreams come true when we have the vision, do the work, and live with active hope. Active hope provides the energy and confidence to embrace the journey, learn from failures, and gain skills through experiences.  

Do the Work

Leading with hope is challenging. I don’t believe there are “hopeful” and “pessimistic people.” Each of us gets to choose our mindset; we decide how we view the world. Our mindset isn’t fixed; we can choose to improve our approach to how we think, feel, and live.

With mindset being an individual choice, each of us is accountable for our own life’s work. Of course, it is easier to be an optimistic leader when things are going well. When our own experiences are negative, when bad things happen to us that are out of our control, maintaining a positive mindset is much more difficult.  

One of my life’s mentors is battling stage four cancer. For most, a terminal diagnosis is not only the cause, but permission, to be negative. But for Tim, this battle is what he’s been training for his entire life. His mindset during experimental treatments – when he is physically pushed to a breaking point – is inspirational. Each day is a gift for Tim – an opportunity to do the work.

Without a doubt, life isn’t easy. Bad things happen in our lives – many events we can’t control. Being Hopeful requires practice and repetition; it requires being disciplined. Doing the work is the only path to success.

The Miracle of Hope

I live my life with a mindset of hope.  

Hope = Possibility + Faith

Hope is having a vision for the future – a picture in your mind’s eye of what tomorrow can be – with the faith that you can make it happen. Faith, defined as trust or confidence without evidence, is critical for optimistic leaders.  

We are all leaders. When we envision a better future with the faith that we can collectively make that vision a reality, we lead with hope.  

This work is challenging; it isn’t natural. There are days and moments every day when I have negative thoughts and feelings. There are days and moments in every day that I need to be more disciplined in my mindset. Optimistic leadership requires practice; the work demands repetition. The most critical work is difficult; we build these skills over time. It is the slow, daily work that makes us better as leaders.

Do the work.

Modeling Optimism

Optimistic leaders are often criticized for having rose-colored glasses. I’ve worked with people who refer to themselves as realists; they embrace negativity under the guise of just being honest. Realists accept set limits; they seem to embrace the status quo.

I purposefully strive to model optimistic leadership. Some may ask, “Why?” For me, there isn’t an alternative.

Many leaders in our world today lead from a negative space. Some leaders seek to tear down others rather than lift themselves. Some leaders live to lament the current situation, seemingly enjoying the opportunity to suck others into their misery. And yes, misery loves company.

My mindset is my choice – and I choose to be optimistic. I believe that joy cometh in the morning. I have faith that each day is a new opportunity to create the future; each day is filled with possibilities to make a new reality.

Optimistic Leadership is Required

Now, more than ever in recent history, education requires optimistic leaders. Teachers get to go to work every day knowing that they are providing the foundation for our student’s future success. As a school superintendent, I get to come to work every morning knowing that I play a small role in creating a better future.  

As a school community, we get to inspire our students to dream of all the possibilities for their futures. With each dream, our students are creating that mindset of possibilities. 

We will all face obstacles; we will learn to persist. We will inevitably fail often along the way; we learn that failures teach us through experience. When we are optimistic and hopeful, we endure with faith and hope. 

As you go about your work today, strive to be a beacon of optimism. Be the light, the energy for others in the room.

Inspiring Action

Leaders inspire others to reach higher and take action. None of us can harness the possibilities of the future alone; we are always stronger and better together. For our students, it requires families, educators, and the community to prepare our students for all the possibilities for the future.

Leaders don’t create plans for the future. Leaders inspire others to unite, find common ground and build a collective vision. Leaders build consensus, facilitate compromises to complex dilemmas, and inspire others to action.

Be intentional in your actions today – be a facilitator of possibility.

Leading through Possibility

Influential leaders know how much better we can be in the future; they inspire a true sense of possibility. To foster the “possibility of who we can be,” leaders encourage us to envision a limitless future. Exceptional leaders inspire us to imagine collective dreams for a better tomorrow.  

When we envision our short- and long-term future, we cultivate a mindset of possibilities. Our visions create mental roadmaps; the images are mental plans for reaching a goal. Mentally mapping what is possible creates a process to achieve a goal, to make a dream a reality.

You are a leader . . . be intentional in your actions and words. Be purposeful to inspire the possibilities in those with whom you serve.

Your positive energy and vision must be greater than anyone’s and everyone’s negative energy.

Your positive energy and vision must be greater than anyone’s and everyone’s negative energy. – Jon Gordon

Here is my New Year’s Wish . . . it’s a hope for all of us. We are going to overcome the negative energy we face with optimism. Our vision and positive energy will be our true north. The magnetism of our actions – not just our words but our actions – will attract others along our journey.

It is easy to be negative. For some, especially with the proliferation of social media and electronic communications, negativism has become their default. Undisciplined behavior predicated on blaming others, complaining about everything, and defending their own position has become their own personal reality. These people suck the energy out of any situation – and often defend their own behavior by defining themselves as “realists or watchdogs” – but we know better.

We know that optimistic people are more successful. Optimistic people overcome barriers because they are more persistent. Researchers at NYU have found that “the brains of optimistic people actually light up differently on a scan than those who are pessimistic when they think about future events.” Positive energy propels us to new success. Negative energy brings progress to a screeching stop.

As you take time to think about the new year, commit to a positive energy and positive vision. Together – in all aspects of our lives – we can make a difference simply through our attitude. Personally and professionally, my goal is to call-out the negative people in my life and in our organization. The behavior we permit is the culture we promote. Let’s put an end to negative energy in our lives. Call it out, banish it from the room, and bring light back into darkness.

Your positive energy and vision – the energy and vision that start with your core values and behavior – must be greater than everyone else’s negative energy. It’s up to all of us!

Resolve to Respond with Skill

None of us can control our emotions. We can only control our reactions to our emotions. – Neil Pasricha, The Happiness Equation 

The start of the new year is often a time for creating resolutions and pursuing opportunities for self-improvement. I have long belonged to a local gym; it is part of my morning routine. Every year I marvel at the first couple of weeks of the new year. The gym is crowded with people fulfilling their resolutions to “get up and exercise every morning.” By mid-January the crowd has started to thin-out and by Valentine’s Day, it is back to the regulars.  

We often resolve to control our emotions. We want to control our stress, our anger, our frustration . . . we strive to change who we are. You can’t change you. You can’t change the triggers and drivers of your inner-core. What you can change is how you respond to the triggers.

Don’t start 2023 by trying to change you. Start 2023 by changing how you respond. Be purposeful, be prepared, for how you will respond to your emotions. Don’t change the emotion, manage the response. We can’t change the external, but we can better manger our internal. Be disciplined . . . do the work.