Guest Post by Susan Silver
When we speak of leaders, we often think of their “vision”. This term is associated with words like insight, foresight, persistence, tenacity, innovation and creativity. These visionaries take on a larger than life quality as one of the few that were able to revolutionize the world with their ideas. This inspires us, but it isn’t always clear how to cultivate these leadership skills in ourselves.
Vision is a State of Mind
Believe it or not, I learned the most about the biological mechanisms of vision from psychology. There is a field called sensation and perception that is concerned with the cognitive interpretation of sensory information. We have learned that even the experience of the color “red” is subjective. You and I just don’t see it the same way nor would we be able to explain our experience to each other.
So, what does physical vision have to do with “vision”? Well imagine that you are a sponge. You have absorbed emotions, education, social rules, family entanglements, and all other sorts of phenomena over your life time. You have interpreted this sensory data and it has contributed to who you are today. This is your vision, how those experiences have been combined to generate the view of the world you have today.
Yes, you can assume that vision is that biological concept or that it is the world that you see inside your conscious mind. I will argue that it is both. Once we have our inner vision the real trick is how to overlay that onto the world we experience every day.
I believe this why we really care about those visionaries. They took an inner subjective experience and found a way to bring that to others.
Visionary Leadership is About Problem Solving
Psychology has studied this and broken down the whole process into stages. One of the most important is a stage called incubation.
In this stage we have put effort into a solution, but we haven’t found one yet. We go off to do something else. Then while we are in the shower the answer appears, but it feels like it came from nowhere. Is this a miraculous event or coincidence? Not really, the truth is that you never stopped trying to solve that problem. A part of your mind was still churning away.
Okay getting back to the vision bit here, visionaries are people solving problems. Their leadership skill set comes from this well of activity in their subconscious that has been informed by their life events. When push comes to shove, they are able to communicate these ideas into a positive vision of the future that people can act on.
Their achievements loom large over our heads, but they are not uncommon. In fact it might just be you reading this now that comes up with the next important idea.
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Steve Jobs
You Are a Thought Leader Too
If you want to become an asset to your family, friends, or company begin by understanding your own reality. Focus on the bits of you that you feel are unique, be subjective here because it is your experience that matters not an outside observer.
I think this is what we mean by the term personal brand; it really amounts to how you think about the world and how that differs from those in the same field. These are the skills that you are selling to your employer. They want to know how you think and what you can do that will benefit the company. In return that company needs to satisfy your personal needs, but you are only going to know this if you understand your vision.
Photo Credit: Wesley Fryer on Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Susan is a copywriter who crafts content strategies that rank. She is also the community manager for Gygax Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @susan_silver and Google+.
Join the Conversation
Have you thought about the way you think? What practices do you undertake to do this and, equally important, how has this defined your vision, leadership, and brand?
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Visionary Leadership Belongs to Everyone
Susan, thank you for this refreshing treatment of tying being a visionary to problem solving. Popular wisdom pegs visionaries as the dreamers who may not be so good about executing on anything tangible, let alone solving “real” problems. Yet, as you laid out above, including that great quote by Jobs I love, it’s those who really think outside the box who can introduce innovation, including innovative ways to solve problems for which others might have developed a blind spot or have lost objectivity.
Jon, thank you for including another thought-provoking guest post!
Thank you so much Alice for your comment! You are so right. We talk about dreamers, but it always has to tie back into what they did. Ideas are not enough, we must act on them! Leaders encourage us not only to think, but to act!
What a wonderful post and Jon, thanks for having Susan over!
Susan, your post certainly got me thinking about something, which helped me the most in actually seeing myself as a leader and believing I could develop the skills of a leader. It was my ability to imagine on the screen of my mind. It doesn’t matter who we are, or what background we come from, we can all see the world that we want and the role we want to play it in, vividly in our minds. We can then use this as force to engage in behaviours in the real world to make what we have imagined a reality.
Thanks Hiten for your kind words today! Again a very good point and one that resonates with me as well. What we see in our minds does influence our behavior in the real world. I find when I have the right mind set, that all my interactions with others go more smoothly. The more clearly I can imagine the outcome I desire in my mind, the easier it is to achieve that result.
Thanks for the reminder, Susan, that “Visionary” is not a genetic trait and neither is “Thought Leader.” Also, I agree! It’s important to know not only who we are and what we offer but also the flip side of what we need. When we’re happy at work, feeling the passion and working with purpose that’s when our best, most visionary selves come out to play.
Absolutely agree with you Alli! I love the way you state it at the end, “… feeling the passion and working with purpose that’s when our best, most visionary selves come out to play.” I think you hit it on the nose there. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts, much appreciated!