There’s a billboard on the main freeway in Dubai that reads: “The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by renowned business thinker and author, Peter Drucker, who said, “The only way to predict the future is to create it.”
This ability, of great leaders, to shape the future, begins with them being able to articulate their vision in words. These words paint a picture for others that catalyses action and orientates behaviours.
JFK says: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade“, and a new, shared vision is realised. Martin Luther King says: “I have a dream…“, and his dream becomes our vision too.
Having worked with dozens of school leaders around the world, I see, in the best of them, this same ability to help paint a picture of an exciting, brighter future. When a picture of the future is clear enough and inspiring enough, it can be wonderfully infectious. And then, it’s amazing how an idea, dream, or vision of the future can be willed into reality.
Our brain really has two fundamental purposes. First, it is a life-preservation device, finely tuned over millennia to identify threats and opportunities that may harm us or enable us and our species to thrive. Second, it is a story-telling machine. It takes in a tiny fraction of reality through our senses and cobbles it all together in the form of a linear narrative that, for the most part, ‘feels’ real. Without this personalised narrative, our lives would lack any sense of continuity and meaning.
Mostly, this narrative helps us navigate through life productively – which is great. Super helpful. But sometimes, the story we tell ourselves creates a bias or blindness that hinders us.
In one conversation I was having with a teacher last week, I couldn’t help notice the overly-certain way that he was describing different elements within his school: “We tried that but nobody _______“; “Everyone wants _______ to happen but management don’t believe in it”; “I know ______ works in other schools but there’s no way it would work with our staff”.
Now, those statements could be true – although it’s pretty unlikely given how generalised and extreme they are. These are the kind of extreme generalisations that are unhelpful in the workplace. Not only do they belie the complexity of organisational communities but they create a myopic lens that closes down possibilities.
And we’re all guilty of this form of bias – to some extent – from time to time. So the next time you’re in meeting with “the guy who never _______” or you have to go to and speak to “that lady who always ________“, try to catch yourself, take a breath and remind yourself that this is just a story you’re telling. It might be true. But there’s a chance that you are closing an opportunity to really engage with a new moment.