Hopeful Leadership

Preston Printers had been a very successful regional printing company until its founder retired. When the son of the founder took over, the business started spiraling downward until it ended in bankruptcy. The bankruptcy judge took an unusual approach in relieving some of the debts of the business. He insisted that the son be replaced as the leader of the business and be replaced by the daughter, Julie Preston. What made this an unprecedented decision was that Julie had no experience at running a business.

Julie was on the care team at the local university. She worked with troubled students to give them hope so they could resume their educations. She was excellent at what she did, and turned down the administrative position so she could remain a care giver. She was reluctant to take over the running of Preston Printers and only did so to protest her parents’ retirement.

With no leadership experience, Julie did what she knew best, and that was to talk to people about what had gone wrong. Julie spoke with her staff to find out why printing accounts were lost. With this insight, she then met with lost clients to see if she could renew their trust in the company. What Julie found was that the approach she used to get students to open up to her also worked in finding out the concerns in the business world. It didn’t take long for Preston to be given a second chance.

Julie’s next step was to change their sales approach. What she did was to insist that each sales representative ask the question “What do you hope to achieve with this print material?” This was a question that set Preston apart from other printers because it helped to understand more than just the job itself. It really helped to understand how the printed material would represent their clients. For Julie asking the hope question was a natural thing to do. She always asked that question to students she counseled.

She also met one-on-one with her operations staff to gather their thoughts on the business. The question she asked was: “How can I reduce the challenges you face in your everyday work?” It was the same question she asked students when she asked how she could reduce the challenges they face in their life. Again this was a hope type of question. As Julie gained insights from her staff, she began to change the culture of the organization.

The results of Julie’s leadership were amazing. It didn’t take long for Preston to leave bankruptcy and return to sound financial wealth. For Julie, the turnaround was personally satisfying in that she was able to see how her hope mentoring was something that worked in the business world. While she still longed for her work with students, she realized that the impact she made at Preston was also very satisfying.

Hopefulness is an essential trait of leadership. It’s not something you can teach in an MBA program. It must come from a genuine caring of the leader is and what he/she values. Hopefulness is also something that is reflected in how we interact with others. It’s a combination of listening, asking questions that reflect true feelings, and a genuineness of caring. These are hard to teach. Truly hopeful leadership traits are only gained by interacting with people with genuineness.

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“Keeping others is a question of being genuine and projecting that genuineness to others. This way of being doesn’t have a title or a name particularly. It is just being ultimately decent.”   – Anonymous

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