Couple an active imagination with a healthy amount of pragmatism, and you will move mountains.
Whether you’re a facilities manager, CFO, or running the project to develop the next generation of cancer therapy, all of which my clients have done, doing your best work starts with using your imagination.
What we imagine solves problems, sparks us to do our best, and helps us make a more important and meaningful contribution. It can take you from worker or manager to leader.
It’s deceptively simple to do. Imagine a future better than today based on the question: what’s needed here? Then declare it, engage and guide others to make it a reality by identifying and taking the pragmatic steps from Point A, where you are today, to your desired Point B.
In fact, the more we embrace our imagination, the more resilient our leadership becomes when things change, and when dealing with the inevitable stumbles and failures of being human in the workplace.
For example, a coaching client was a young partner at a large law firm. Her progression through the levels of partnership had stalled, and the feedback I collected said she wasn’t standing out among the crowd of hundreds in her practice area. To make it worse, she showed up at a particular coaching session despondent from a loss on a recent matter. Between hours that were down from the previous year, nothing helping her stand out in a positive way, and this loss, she was wondering where it was all heading.
At that very meeting, I asked myself what was needed here, and it led me to ask my client the question: “What if this loss is not the problem, but it’s the solution for everything you’re trying to do?” After she decided I wasn’t insane, we got into a “what’s needed here?” imaginative brainstorming discussion of our own.
The newly emerging legal precedent that tanked her case was, we noted, affecting others in this global firm. Having lost to it, she was indeed an expert—being smart and motivated, she had of course deconstructed the whole thing in fine detail and knew it oh so well.
How could she, now an expert, become a resource to others in her firm—to help it stand out in this area of the law, and gain a new vigor? She pictured what this could look like (I’d tell you the specifics, but I’d have to kill you!), and over time, established herself and her firm as an expert—a center of excellence. Then, as luck would have it, the precedent went to the US Supreme Court. Needless to say she was quoted widely, helped attract business to the firm, stood out among her group, and ultimately was promoted to a more senior partner.
Remember, this all started with the imaginative spark that asks: “what’s needed here?” A vision of something better followed immediately by the wherewithal to make it happen.
Are you happy and fully engaged in your best work? Is your imagination part of your days? Are your people using their imagination? If not, what would need to change for that to happen?
We are not machines. Some times are harder than others. Energy and positivity ebb and flow, and we get in ruts, routines, or simply coast for a while. I look at these times as having temporarily misplaced our imagination, just like my client had done in the example above. And it’s that spark of “How can things be different?” or “There must be something more than this…like what?” that can turn the tide, and help us through the dark night of what feels like paralysis, to a new beginning, and to leadership.
Without imagination, you can likely manage for a time, but you can’t lead. Leadership—meaning full engagement of people being at their best and doing their best work—requires mind, body and spirit, and you’re not going to get those without something born of imagination.
Yet isn’t it worth it? Would you prefer to manage, or to lead? If it’s the latter, then make sure you access your imagination on a daily basis, temper it with pragmatism, and your return on investment of energy will be very positive indeed.