New Year, New Hope

Best-selling author Dan Goleman lays out the reasons why business leaders should lean into using one of the most powerful motivating factors humans know. 

Daniel Goleman is author of the international best-seller Emotional Intelligence and of the forthcoming Optimal: How to Sustain Personal and Organizational Excellence Every Day. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

Recently, youth climate activists Xiye Bastida and Jerome Foster II spoke with Kate Brandt, chief sustainability officer at Google, at the VERGE climate tech event in San Jose, California.

"We come to the climate movement thinking not what we're upset about and what we're angry about, but what gives us hope for changing the world," Bastida told the audience. "That is what I want to bring to this space.”

Bastida, a 21-year-old climate activist based in New York, was one of the first to greet Greta Thunberg in 2019 when she arrived from Europe by boat to attend the UN Climate Summit. In preparation for the first climate strike in New York City that year, Bastida had mobilized 600 students from her school to participate.

Bastida’s focus on hope touches on an important aspect of purpose – the ability to stay optimistic, inspired, and proactive in times of upheaval and change. Though less discussed in the business sector, hope is a vital part of motivation. Defined as the ability to “want something to happen or be true” or to “cherish a desire with anticipation,” hope is what drives leaders and teams to commit to things like sustainability or equity and inclusion. Often called one of the most powerful forces in the world, it rests on the belief that the future can be better than the past. In a time of great suffering, hope can feel hard to muster. And yet, it’s imperative.

One study from the University of Kansas looking at the role of hope in the lives of students found that those students low in hope had higher levels of anxiety and were less likely to graduate. Another study out of the University of Hong Kong found the same in cancer patients – the more hope, the less anxiety and depression.

This may be one of the reasons purpose bolsters well-being, because to have a sense of purpose requires having some degree of hope in the future – a commitment to a vision that extends well beyond one’s own self-interest.

It’s been more than eight years since the Paris Agreement, where world leaders agreed to do everything in their power to address climate change – and roughly four years since 181 CEOs signed the Business Roundtable’s Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, thereby committing to leading their companies in ways that benefit all of their stakeholders, not just the bottom line.

Since these public initiatives, the climate crisis has only gotten worse. In fact, research from Harvard Law School’s Program on Corporate Governance found that a year after they vowed to shift their approach to business, many of the organizations that supported the Business Roundtable’s statement weren’t actually doing much to follow through on their commitments.

While it’s easy to feel frustration in moments like these, hope, as Bastida says, is exactly what we need to hold onto. While anger can be a catalyst, hope includes having a sense of agency and seeing some kind of path forward. Hopeful people set meaningful goals they believe they can accomplish and identify ways to achieve them.

What gives you hope for changing the world for the better?

As we enter 2024, this question may make all of the difference in how we feel and what we are able to accomplish.

Co-written by Elizabeth Solomon


Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.