Leadership Distinction #8: Imagination

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Without this you just cannot Lead. Period. Full Stop. Fuggetaboutit.

Just as it is impossible to take any action without being bolstered by a belief behind it, it is also impossible to intend anything you haven’t already imagined. And since leadership intends to draw followers to work toward a better tomorrow, Imagination is the fuel cell without which a leader cannot launch into action.

Perhaps the first thinker to put Imagination in the same sentence with leader was Abraham Zaleznik — a Harvard educator and psychoanalyst who pioneered what he called the psychodynamics of leading. He shifted the leadership axis from control and spreadsheets to character and Imagination. Because he believed that, “business leaders have much more in common with artists, scientists, and other creative thinkers than they do with managers.” 

Okay, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Dr. Zaleznik underestimated the amount of managing that any leader must do to bring about the imagined result. But he spurred a crucial turn in how we came to view the deepest propelling force – the mental image of a different tomorrow – that guides one who would lead. 

And unless more is done to stimulate and nurture this ‘skill’ of Imagination, I fear we are going to be left with a limited pool of potential leaders – only those who come into the world with the native capacity to be imaginative. Beyond how that will finally, and unfortunately, settle the ‘are leaders born or are they made?’ debate, we will not have – and it is fair to say that today we do not have – an adequate supply of imaginative leaders.

The expanding forces of complexity that confront the mission of any organization demand – in defiance of the old saw — ‘more chefs in the kitchen’, more co-pilots, more resources with Imagination, willing to share the mantle of leadership. What are you doing today to increase that pool within your organization? 

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