I’ve been asked recently in two interviews, “If you could have dinner with any historic figure, who it would be?” And I always give the same answer, “Abraham Lincoln.” Finally, last night, that dream came true. Well, almost. Patti and I saw the movie Lincoln and I thought I was with him. (What a performance by Daniel Day Lewis; he’s got to win Best Actor.)

While the movie is about how Lincoln strategically pushed for passage of the 13th amendment, which outlawed slavery, it is also a story about how an effective leader inspires followers by giving them hope. And this, after all, is what leaders need to do when times are uncertain, people are afraid, or the outlook for the future appears bleak.

Humans Live for the Future. Recently, I came across Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness. In this book, Gilbert teaches us that one reason humans are unique is that we think about the future  – no other living organism does this. Many of us think about the future all the time and dream about how much better things are going to be. When we are at work we think about what we’re doing after work or on the weekend. We think about our summer vacation. We think about a new car or house we would like.

Stumbling on Happiness

And, if we are in a good place mentally, our vision of the future is better than today. But since our view of the future is often projected from where we are today, if things are bad today, or at least feel bad, we may be more likely to feel that the future is going to be bad. During these times we may be more uncertain, our morale likely drops and our energy declines. There is a void within us created by the thing we dislike most, uncertainty.

What we need at that moment is hope. And this is when we are most open to someone to inspire us and give us hope for a better, more certain tomorrow. This is when leaders can emerge and, hopefully, help us do things that makes the future better than today.

It’s a Wonderful Life. For many of us the movie It’s a Wonderful Life is a favorite this time of year. One of the inspiring messages of hope in this film is when the guardian angel character, Clarence, shows the middle-aged suicidal character and community leader, George Bailey, what George’s home town of Bedford Falls would have looked like had George never been born. George was able to see how the people he cared about most were worse off without him.

George was the leader who always provided hope for others; in the end he understood that helping others was his responsibility. And when he understood this himself, his hope for the future grew bright.

When have you experienced leadership that provided you hope? Do you know anyone right now who could use this gift? During this holiday season wouldn’t that be the greatest gift of all?