Flawed Barrels 4: Despair

A nurse responding to a recent survey described her work life as demanding great effort and accomplishing little. She felt that resource cuts in her area prevented her from using her skills and energy effectively. She had not confidence of meaningful improvements to come.

At the heart of resiliency is a hope for a brighter future. Today’s strains become more bearable when you are confident that they will pass. Optimism serves as a valuable resource, not only for individuals but for group cultures as well.

The fourth flaw in this series is despair, or the absence of hope. Despair can come to dominate a group’s culture when members lose confidence in their capacity to build a better future. People want to be progressing in their jobs. The very word, career, implies going somewhere. The idea of becoming bogged down in the same struggles interminably saps their energy.

With workgroups, it is essential to link hope with a sense of agency. That is, it is not simply important to have hope for the future but also to feel that one’s actions play a part in bringing that future about.

The immediate sign of despair is cynicism. Cynical remarks not only disparage the current state of things, they also discourage oneself and others from exerting any effort to address any problems. Pessimistic conversations among team members turn individual despair into a team culture.


Napoleon is credited with the phrase, leaders are purveyors of hope, but the sentiment goes back for millennia.

The first point is that during challenging times, someone must take the lead with an optimistic narrative.

Secondly, hope requires shared action. The new, improved world will not come to those who wait, but to those who actively contribute to building that future. For this point to be genuine, leaders need to share control, decisions, and initiative with team members.

Third, leaders must be present. Conversations among team members occur continuously. In tough times, leaders need to relinquish off-site activities and attend to their people.

Despair is not something that just happens. It is part of a team culture that grows in an insidious way in dysfunctional workgroups. Diverting that negative energy into something constructive is a fundamental leadership function.

Are you feeling hopeful today?


Other Posts in this Series

Bad Apple Problems



Misuses of Power

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