It’s December, the traditional time for transformational leaders to reflect on their accomplishments over the past year and their visions for the New Year.
One of the great blessings of my career has been to help leaders at all levels of organizational and community life to articulate their visions. Most of them have been in agreement about one thing: it’s hard work! Envisioning the future requires imagination, discipline and diligence.
Transformational leaders recognize that they are a bridge between the present and the future. It is the leaders job to provide a compelling vision for the way forward and to articulate that vision through generative and inspirational language and actions. This is how individuals and organizations free themselves from complacency and invent the future that they want, not the one to which they are relegated.
Many times in my coaching and consulting practice I will hear people say: “I don’t have a vision.” It is almost always an overstatement. Everyone has a vision for what is most meaningful — at home, at work and in the community.
What is more likely to have happened is that they have lost touch with their guiding vision or have lost their way.
That’s easy to do. Our world has become so busy that many of us feel swept up in endless tasks. We become disoriented by both the volume and velocity of daily duties.
Don’t despair if you are having trouble finding your way forward. Here are seven things that you can do to envision 2010:
1. Reflect on Meaning
Dr. Angeles Arrien, author of the Four-Fold Way, reminds us to “pay attention to what has heart and meaning.” That requires reflection, the ability to explore what matters most. When we reflect on what we’re passionate about and what is most meaningful, we tap into what is of highest value in our personal and professional lives. This brings clarity and focus to bear on our questions of purpose and direction.
What is currently most meaningful to you in your relationships, work, wellbeing, personal development, spirituality, and community service?
What is most meaningful to the team or organizational journey that you are leading or supporting?
What are the things you need to focus on to ensure you are paying attention to what is most important this year?
Vision work seeks the answer to these important questions through structured contemplation that leads to insight and action.
2. Follow Inspiration
When I ask my clients to tell me about are their current sources of inspiration what I hear quite often is dead silence. They can tell me in great detail about their challenges. But few people pay attention to their sources of inspiration.
Inspiration is all around us-family members, neighbors, colleagues, and public figures are a reminder that we can exceed what we believe is possible. What inspires us also informs us about our passions, what is most meaningful and what we most want to be doing.
Even the news is filled with inspirational stories, especially today when the going is tough for so many people! Often, you’ll find those stories buried a little deeper in the paper, but they are there to be found. Author Jack London had the right idea when he wrote: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
3. Track Your Dreams
Daydreams and night dreams hold important information about our aspirations. Daydreams, those pleasant thoughts that we often ignore, are visualizations of scenarios and events that we would most like to experience. While these can be grandiose, at their core is a nugget of truth about our preferred future.
Our night dreams are also rich with symbolic information about the future we most desire to experience. Sir Laurens van der Post, the renowned cultural anthropologist, referred to our night dreams as “the forgotten language of God.” He cited the importance placed on dreams by indigenous societies worldwide for guidance and insight and deplored how dreams have been dismissed and marginalized in contemporary society.
Transformational leaders pay attention to the work of the subconscious mind and see it as a rich source of information. Start a journal to capture your day and night dreams. They can be important sources of guidance.
4. Investigate the Fragments
A common misconception of the visioning process is that vision arrives either fully formed and in Technicolor, or not at all. Most often, vision arrives in fragments- seemingly disconnected images, feelings, encounters, discoveries, and insights that must be pieced together like a mosaic or a puzzle in order to be understood.
Nowadays, most people have little patience for such detective work. Transformational leaders understand that vision isassembled. They recognize the importance of investigation and contemplation, the twin aspects required to make meaning of the abstract.
Every vision starts as an abstraction, content that is seemingly disassociated from its source. While most of us are satisfied to meet such material with a quizzical shrug and a chuckle, transformational leaders see these moments as revelation. They are not in such a hurry to allow a fragment of vision to escape further investigation or contemplation.
5. Challenge Limiting Beliefs
Wim Wenders, the visionary German film director, once observed: “The more opinions you have, the less you see.” He is right. Vision can become mired in our assumptions, opinions and beliefs about what is possible. Too often, we fail to challenge our assumptions, or the assumptions of other people, and as a result, vision becomes “locked–in” by the status quo.
Transformational leaders always challenge their own conventions. They recognize that vision is the pursuit of new territory. Going over old ground is a recipe for stagnation. The courage to move past the tried and true leads to new possibilities.
In what areas do you feel trapped by routines, conventional thinking or formulaic approaches to opportunities or problems? What do you need to start/stop/continue to do to break free of the status quo?
Out beyond our certainties is the territory of the visionary.
6. Seek Feedback and Advice
Myopia is a condition that impedes foresight. It occurs when we are too close to something, focused on details at the expense of the big picture, or afraid to face a challenging situation or a void. This condition can lead us to make a fundamental mistake– seeing the future as a threat, rather than as an opportunity to create something new, better or different.
It’s easy to lose perspective, especially in the face of complex situations or facing the unknown. That’s the time to seek feedback and advice from a trusted resource- a mentor, coach or friend with rich experience who can help restore 20:20 vision.
A mentor or coach who has been trained in guiding growth and development in another person can provide unbiased and timely insights, counsel, tools and encouragement. This support is especially important in visualizing difficult transitions.
It’s one of the hardest things in the world to see yourself and your journey objectively. Asking for help is an act of wisdom.
7. Make Time
Many of us lurch through life fighting fires. We seem to have a hard time making time for things that are important but not urgent...until they catch fire. That’s a recipe for arson, not an atmosphere for envisioning our preferred future.
Your people deserve to be well led. They will have a hard time understanding your priorities if the most important work of leadership-envisioning the future-is left to last on your agenda or not done at all.
Visioning requires daily practice and the right environment for creative thinking. Making time and space in a busy day-maybe just fifteen minutes first thing in the morning and again at day’s end-can interrupt an addiction to action without reflection.
Remember the old African proverb: “Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”