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Unleash your mind


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Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 3/2022 vom 23.02.2022

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The sky?s the limit ? free your mind to increase potential

We hear a lot today about the importance of behavioural and thinking skills in a world dominated by data and analytics. Yet, seldom is the talk about imagination — the ultimate people and power skill.

Our imagination allows us to escape the boredom of routine tasks with thoughts of what we would prefer to be doing. It can inspire us beyond endless meetings in the office with dreams of exciting opportunities. It is an important self-motivational tool for challenging and uplifting the way we experience the world around us. Without it, we stagnate. Unleashing it, we find ourselves striving to learn, to experience and to achieve new things.

Compared to creativity, imagination is far less popular as a concept. This may be due partly to its broad range of meanings, which are not all positive. For example, how would you feel if a colleague, on listening to you talk about your ...

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... back pain, replied, “Hey, forget it. You’re just imagining it.” Basically, you’ve just been told that you are the victim of your own fake news —a wicked imagination that feeds you false information and leads you to wrong conclusions.

Of course, the word has more positive associations. Imagination is well known in sport, for example, as a motivational technique. A sports coach might urge an athlete on to high performance by saying: “Imagine playing the perfect set! You can do it!” Here, imagination is a creative mental visualization technique to inspire positive outcomes. Similarly, calling a solution in a meeting “highly imaginative” is positive feedback. But what if I were to tell you of my disastrous workday and you replied, “I can’t imagine how you felt”? This statement shows that imagination is not always for everyone. Many find it challenging to allow their minds to go beyond the boundaries of the known. Trying to be imaginative is hard work, and it runs the risk of failure. Who wants to be labelled unimaginative?

Yet, engaging with your imagination can bring many benefits. Let’s look at some key areas where you can apply your imagination to deliver positive results.

Imagine yourself succeeding

When we talk about success, we also must talk about failure, as one of the major drivers of human beings is fear — fear of failure, shame and conflict. While these fears can prevent us from achieving our potential, imagination is a tool that can be used to tackle fear and unlock inner potential. Let’s take a simple example — fear of public speaking. We often spend time preparing agendas and PowerPoint slides to make us feel secure in tough meetings or demanding presentations. Yet, imaginative visualization is also a great preparatory tool, one that is commonly used in sport today. Players in a range of sports are often asked to imagine the moment facing them: scoring the goal under pressure, hitting the basket from a distance, feeling the ball on their feet or in their hands, moving past their opponent, making the shot, hearing the crowd roar in approval. 

Neuroscientists tell us that imaginative visualization can be nearly as effective as physical practice in improving performance. Not only does it reduce anxiety, it also makes us perform well.

This article will help you to...

• reflect on the role of imagination in leadership

• reimagine core dimensions of leadership

• identify ways of using imagination to develop your own leadership skills

Imagine amazing communication

Most working professionals see communication at work as problematic and difficult to improve. This mindset undermines results and relationships with its pessimism. Imagination can be used to reset our mindset to be more optimistic and invigorate our communication. Imagine, for example, a colleague casually saying “Good morning” when you walk into your office tomorrow. more important Imagine that, instead of smiling and walking past, you stop and than knowledge. suggest getting a coffee together. Then imagine that, over coffee, you hear of a new job opportunity. You get some feedback that gives you the confidence you’ve never

had. You offer some informal coaching to your colleague, which helps them take an amazing decision, which convinces you to change career and become a coach. Fantasy?

Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, demands that we imagine conversations in this way, and that, while no conversation is guaranteed to change your life, any conversation can. She’s right. Our lives depend on key conversations. What prevents us from having these fruitful conversations is often a lack of imagination. If we imagine the possibilities that even short conversations can bring, and come to these conversations committed, present and curious, then our world has the potential to change for the better every time we talk to somebody.

“Imagin ation is Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world”

– Albert Einstein

Imagine yourself as others imagine themselves

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is motivating other people to perform. Ultimately, motivation is a challenge of the imagination. If you, as a leader, can imagine how others see themselves and their world, can truly feel their motivation and can understand their concerns, then you are at the beginning of growing high-performing individuals and high-performing teams. To develop empathy, we need imagination.

Imagine yourself, for example, walking in your boss’s shoes through your workplace, seeing through their eyes, talking to you or to their boss — communicating and living according to a different set of priorities. If you do this regularly, you begin to appreciate what moves others, how many of their disagreements with your own ideas may be justified, how your behaviour may provoke what you most criticize, how you may be a bigger problem than you realize you are. These insights can help make you more open and improve your listening skills and your ability to motivate.

Imagine the unimaginable

Our imagination allows us to challenge fundamental ideas about reality. Let’s imagine the earth is not at the centre of the solar system. Let’s imagine time is relative, not absolute. People entertained these crazy thoughts once and revolutionized our mental maps of experience.

LEARN FROM THE EXPERTS

Gareth Morgan is a renowned writer on the power of imagination and the use of visualized metaphors to stimulate creative thinking. In Imaginization: New Mindsets for Seeing, Organizing, and Managing (Sage Publications; first edition 1997), he makes the case that all of us should use our power of imagination to tackle our toughest challenges — with renewed creativity via the power of metaphor and visualization.

This kind of counter-intuitive thinking at work can generate effective leadership. One example I often use in leadership training is to challenge people’s traditional concept of organization with the idea that organizations don’t exist. By making this counter-intuitive statement, my point is serious: most of us work in what I call “dis-organizations”, dysfunctional working environments with chronic understaffing, a lack of strategic direction, a mismatch of the goals between colleagues (which generates conflict) and a general feeling of disengagement. But when you imagine that there is no such thing as organization, you begin to shift perspective.

If this is reality, what’s the sense in complaining about it? We just need to get on with it. Our focus should be on establishing priorities. If our goals don’t align, let’s discuss them and see what makes sense; let’s not blame others for not collaborating. If leaders are not providing leadership, let’s do it ourselves. What emerges from this is a passionate and proactive mindset in individuals and teams taking back their own destiny. How we think drives what we do.

Imagination, therefore, can bring benefits to ourselves, our interactions with others and how we lead in organizations. Having reflected on the power, scope and potential of imagination, I wonder why we speak so little about it. Perhaps the answer lies in the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, in his book The Imaginary, where he reflects, “For a consciousness to be capable of imagining… it needs to be free.” Maybe our ability to think and imagine is not as free as we believe it to be.

Now, that should spark your imagination.

20-MINUTE EXERCISE

The next time you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel anxious, where you feel pressure to perform, take 20 minutes to imagine the scenario.

Imagine yourself succeeding. Close your eyes and visualize the moment.

Hear yourself saying the right things and people responding positively. See yourself as powerful and successful.

Replay this exercise several times in your mind, until you feel a sense of mastery of the situation. Then go do it for real with more confidence.

BOB DIGNEN is a director of International Leadership Performance (ILP) and York Associates. He specializes in executive leadership coaching and training. Contact: Contact: leader@business-spotlight.de

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You can listen to an interview with Bob Dignen on Business Spotlight Audio and try our exercises in Business Spotlight Plus. To order, go to www.aboshop. spotlight-verlag.de

DEVELOP YOUR LEADERSHIP WITH IMAGINATION

Imagination is an important tool you can use to develop your leadership skills. Here are some tips on how to use your imagination and language to get results.

1. Assert yourself

Successful people enable their own success by using assertive language. Imagine yourself using the words and phrases below during your visualizations, and then apply this to real scenarios, in which you succeed at what you do.

Give personal opinions:

•I believe that we should…

• Make “can-do” statements:

•I can…

• Say no:

•I don’t agree because…

• Assert your values:

• It’s important to consider / involve / respect…

2. Power up the conversation If you want conversations to deliver on the promise you imagine they can, use forms of language that allow ideas to emerge and their potential to be released.

Hypothesize:

• What if… ?

• Propose collaboration:

• Could we… ?

• Explore possibilities:

• Would it be possible to… ?

• Offer suggestions:

• Why not… ?

3. Move from imagination to action

People often complain about what others should be doing rather than making things happen themselves. The transition from imagination to action is one of the pillars of leadership. Use this language to turn ideas into reality.

Do a thought experiment:

• Let’s say… (organizations don’t exist.)

• Explore the logic:

•I say this because…

• Explain the consequences:

• If we accept this, then…

• Move to action:

• So, what we need to do is…