How to be a spirit-of-the-law or hope-based leader

During my doctoral studies, I frequented several ER rooms before it was discovered I had a heart condition.

(Family Photo)

On one of those occasions, my doctoral advisor, Dr. Clifford McClain, found out.

ACTE Vision 2015 New Orleans
(ACTE, 2017)

“I’m on my way,” he texted.

Once there, he said, “I didn’t want my favorite doctoral student to be alone.”

“But I’m your only doctoral student,” I smiled.

“Well, yeah, anyway, I just didn’t want you to be alone.”

Hope-based leaders are servant leaders who do these kinds of things.

They are also known as spirit-of-the law ones’.

In McClain’s class, when a student had an idea that was off topic, he would say, “Okay, okay, that’s good thinking.  Keep at it.”  Whereas a letter-of-the law or fear-based professor would say, “What the H-E double hockey sticks was that?”

Dr. Jonathan Herman, a long island OB-GYN, is, like McClain, a spirit-of-the-law leader.  In fact, one thing he taught me is to use “we.”  For example, when a patient visits his practice and is having a difficult time, after having tested positive for a hereditary breast and ovarian cancer mutation (HBOC), he would say, “We are going to get through this” as though he tested positive for a mutation himself.  On the other hand, a letter-of-the-law or fear-based practitioner would say, “First, you’ll need to have your breasts cut off, then your ovaries cut out” (I’m not making this stuff up.  I’ve spoken around the nation on HBOC since 2008, been in and out of a myriad of doctors offices, and, unfortunately, have heard these horror story comments).

One more spirit-of-the-law leader is Darrin Shamo, former director of direct and online marketing at Zappos.  Shamo told me about a time when Zappos was moving to the old city county building in Las Vegas, while it was being renovated for them to eventually move into.  At this time, some of his staff was being housed in a nearby rental office.  But on the way walking to and from work, from an outdoor parking deck, his employees were being harassed by people on the street.  So, Shamo, wanting to ensure his folks were meeting Abraham Maslow’s second rung of “safety”, from his hierarchy of needs, was able to provide underground parking and lunch delivered to them on-site.

Darrin Shamo.jpg
(E-commerce Brasil, 2013)

Who are these people?

You know some of them.

In fact, you could be one of them.

All I know is that hope-based communication creates hope-based leaders who create hope-based cultures.

Your name is safe with them.

They’re going to listen.

Give you the benefit of the doubt.

Assume the best.

Believe in, support and empower you.

The truth is, becoming a spirit-of-the-law leader is possible.

But first you gotta get rid of those letter-of-the-law idiosyncracies.  Here are just some you might recognize:

  • Entitlement
  • Ego
  • Throwing people under the boss
  • Selfish
  • Setting people up for failure
  • Disloyal to the absent and present
  • Criticizing
  • Taking credit
  • Rigid
  • Unforgiving
  • Disrespectful
  • Negative
  • My way or the highway attitude
  • Bullying
  • Catastrophizing
  • Impatient
  • Having favorites
  • Judging
  • Seeing the glass half-empty

I don’t believe McClain, Herman or Shamo were ever letter-of-the-law or fear-based leaders.

But even if they were, then there is certainly hope for you and I.

To become a spirit-of-the-law or hope-based leader.

Where people want to be around you.

Or work for you.

Or both.

Where people have fun in your culture.

Because they know their name is safe with you.

And they can’t wait to get into work (yup, there are actually cultures like this).

And you care so much about your people that they will bust through a brick wall for you.

Because you believe in, support and empower them.

And listen.

And care and are present.

Even in an ER, or a doctor’s office or in any office.

Whatever it takes.

Do it.

Become it.

And while you do, remember everyone’s your favorite, to use “we” and if you can swing it, provide underground parking and lunch.


ACTE.  (2017).  Region V.  Retrieved from

[E-Commerce Brasil]. (2013, September 12).  Forum e-commerce Brasil.  [Video File].  Retrieved from




I’d say a 10-15 million dollar mistake, where an employee is kept, warrants a safe work culture: Love is just one of the reasons why
(Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em, 2017)

You’re kidding me, right?

No, true story.

A few years back, I’d interviewed the marketing director at one of the largest, if not THE largest,  U.S. e-tailer.

This director, I’ll call him John, had made a mistake.

And, to most people, a huge one at that.

Actually, a 10-15 million dollar one.

Yet, his company still kept him.


They saw his potential.

And they saw a learning and teaching moment.

The day he was to present to his CEO and CFO about what happened, he thought, “I really could lose my job here.”  In addition to his realizing that not only had he’d made a very, very expensive mistake, but that he’d only been at the company 3-years.

But in he walked.

White board and marker in hand.

“Tell us what happened,” they wanted to know; however, not in a fear-based way, but a hope-based one.

John proceeded to explain that the decision he made was based on said data.

They could see that he was correct.

“Fix it,” they said confidently and lovingly.

And John did.

He would tell me, “I’ve probably got the most expensive education here,” and that he would go through a brick wall for those leaders and company based on how they believed in and trusted him.


Because they gave him a chance.

And they loved him.

Retired Colonel Arthur J. Athens (2008), also the U.S. Academy’s Vice Admiral of the James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical leadership, said, “I believe if you ask any extraordinary leader what does leadership and love have to do with it, they would tell you everything” (p. 17).

Col Athens, USMC (Ret)
(Col. Arthur J. Athens, USMC, (Ret.), n.d.)

And Kaye and Jordan-Evans (2005) believed in that concept so much so that they wrote, Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay.

(Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em, 2017)

So, the next time you have an employee who makes a mistake, consider the following:

“Is this employee salvageable?”

“Are they on the wrong seat on the bus?”

“Perhaps they don’t realize their potential yet?”

“Is pride, ego and jealously getting in the way of how I see them?”

“What about all the great things they are doing in my organization?

Yes, there are times, however, when an employee will have to be let go.

Perhaps they broke the law.  Something criminal may have occurred.  Something of that nature.

And sometimes, even, a leader and or an organization may not be ready for an employee or vice-versa.

The timing may not be just right.

That happens.

Yet, the next time you may be considering letting go or firing an employee, ask yourself the questions I poised earlier.

Add to that, Athens (2008) counsel, “Love your people, and you will see amazing things occurr” (p. 17).


To hear Retired Colonel  Athens’ talk on “Leadership: What’s love to to do with it” visit:

You can also download a PDF of his talk mentioned above: athens-_-leadership_whats-love-got-to-do-with-it



Athens, A. J. (2008).  Leadership: What’s love got to do with it?  Retrieved from

Col. Arthur J. Athens, USMC, (Ret.). (n.d.).  Retrieved from

Kaye, B. & Jordan-Evans, S. (2005). Love ’em or lose em’: Getting good people to stay.  San Francisco, CA: Berrett Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Love ’em or lose ’em. (2017).  Retrieved from

Love ’em or lose ’em. (2017).  Retrieved from



(Family Photo)

It’s said a lot. You know, you get introduced to someone and the other someone introducing you says, “Yeah, but, let me tell you that she was once into …” Or, “Did you know, he was once a …”

Out comes the dirt.

The negativity.

The crap.

All fear-based stuff.

Instead of one’s virtues.

Their good stuff.

All that’s positive about them.

Anything and everything hope-based.

My name’s Cynthia Kimball Davis and I’m a hope-based guru. “What’s hope-based?” you may ask. Thoughts, words, actions, and motives that are positive and hopeful. My doctoral dissertation, “Heart-based Hope: A matter of life or death,” coalesces my life experiences as educator, businesswoman and medical patient. I used the tenets of hope theory and servant leadership theory, through an autoethnograhpic methodology, to analyze what hope-based actions are, how they impacted my personal life, and how others perceived their own notions of hope-based actions. From my findings, I created a Heart-based Hope Model of Leadership (H2L) to guide leaders to create a heart-centered culture through hope-based action.

But this blog is so much more.

You’ll learn how to become a hope-based communicator.

And how to create a hope-based culture.

And even how to become a hope-based leader.

You ready?

On your mark.

Get set.


To all things hope-based, that’s.