There’s an obvious application for imagination when you are leading a team. It is in imagining an inspiring vision. “Visionary” is often among the first words used to describe great leaders. And, the word “visionary” is associated with a leader’s ability to conjure a vision few others had thought of. However, there is another place where leadership and imagination go together. And, I’d argue that this place is just as important.
It is leading people with imagination. One of the biggest challenges for leaders is to manage people as they are but lead them as they could be. It is an important distinction. As you eke out efficiency from your team, you need to manage people by designing contexts that help people be productive as is. Helping your team be productive, in turn, helps them feel successful. And, this drives more learning and more productivity. The question that drives this is – “How can I help ___ be more productive?”
However, as you put on your leadership hat, it is vital you ask yourself – “What could this person be 5 or 10 years from now? And, what can I do to help this person be that best version of themselves?” The brightest, most precocious talents often threaten managers who don’t understand them or who don’t understand that they need to put on their leadership hat every once a while. People who aren’t understood can also be exasperating. It is easy to focus on productivity as it is somewhat measurable. And, we, as humans, gravitate to things we can measure. That’s exactly why leadership and imagination go together.
As you lead people, you have to imagine what might happen if all their hidden potential was harnessed. Your 21 year old analyst, in your eyes, shouldn’t be a 21 year old intern who doesn’t know how to do the basic things right. Your imagination must work hard to transform that 21 year old into a seasoned professional who is working her ass off to make a difference while living her life in a way that she describes as fulfilling. Seeing people in such light will transform both your relationship with her and how you treat her. You will still push her to deliver quality work on that next deadline. But, you will also engage her in discussions about her future and pull her into interesting discussions that are well above what she might think she’s ready for.
Manage people for who they are. Lead them imagining what they could be.
This is hard to do because it often doesn’t feel like it is paying off for the longest time.
Until it does.