What do you find easier – dreaming big, or finding a way to make those dreams come true? Most of us have more difficulty with the latter. If you don’t, you may not be dreaming big enough. I remember a time when one of my clients and I were musing about what makes realizing those dreams and visions so difficult. We felt that the toughest part is connecting the vision to reality: Identifying and executing the steps that must be taken to get from here to there.
For years, I was convinced that having a vision and goals meant perceiving a clear and specific picture of what was to come and creating a plan that would ensure that certain milestones were met at designated intervals. I was taught that goals had to be specific, measurable, and time bound (and have spent a good part of my career teaching others the same). I would spend a significant amount of time wordsmithing these goals and creating something similar to a detailed project plan as though I could bend reality to my will. And then life would happen and I’d get exceedingly frustrated when things didn’t fall into place the way I had planned.
The part of us that wants to identify a course of action that mitigates risk and controls all the variables is akin to a manager, whose responsibility is to plan, direct, organize, and control. The challenge is that preconceived ideas of what must be and all that has to happen to bring it to fruition can never take into account all the unexpected twists and turns that each day throws at us. So, the manager in each of us needs to take its orders from a higher authority.
This higher authority is our inner leader. The leader lives in the present, takes its cues from its inner and outer environment, and speaks to the hearts as well as the heads of its people. It is often that part of us that rises up and recognizes when we must make a change in course in order to realize our greater visions. It blends concrete data with intuitive hunches and moves much more fluidly.
The manager in each of us often wants to fix things and tends to place more attention on what is wrong than what is right. It is so concerned with problems that it has a way of identifying with them and unwittingly propagating them. The manager would have us set goals about the behaviors we want to stop, and the things about ourselves that aren’t good enough. These goals almost always fail because they lead us to identify with the very state we wish to rise above. We enter into them from a state of lack, and though our behaviors may temporarily change in accordance with detailed plans we have outlined for ourselves, our thoughts about who we are and what’s wrong keep us tethered and ultimately lead us to act in ways that reinforce old habits and patterns.
The leader focuses on possibilities and speaks to that part of ourselves and others that has the capability and potential to achieve it. It sees through the eyes of someone who has already realized their goals and visions rather than identifying with the experience of not having been able to do something in the past. The leader in each of us knows that action follows thought and invests time in identifying limiting beliefs and trading them for something more empowering. Rather than moving away from an undesirable place, it focuses on moving toward that which it desires to create.
With the leader in charge, the manager’s willfulness is balanced with willingness – willingness to change and adapt even the best laid plans, to reach higher, and to trust that something greater than ourselves will help us get where we most need to go.
Implications for Real Leaders
The Real Leader Revolution is bringing to a head the need for businesses to better tap the power and potential that exists within the people who are the lifeblood of their organizations. This energy, when properly catalyzed and harnessed, will create the kind of value that earns loyal customers, increased market share and strong, sustainable profitability.
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The other day I was interviewed by an Arizona Republic reporter for an article on how to best position yourself to move from being an individual contributor to become a manager. As I prepared for the interview, I began to reflect on the question of what differentiates successful leaders from struggling managers. Among the several factors I could identify, one loomed larger than any of the others.
As with so many things in life, your MOTIVATION for wanting to become a leader will make all the difference in the level of success you will have.
Many people believe that becoming a manager is the next best step for them because of the increased pay, prestige and upward mobility it will bring. And while it is often true that such a promotion will allow you to enjoy these things – if that is your only reason for wanting it, you will do yourself, the organization you work for, and all the people with whom you will interact a huge service if think a little more about your options before you charge full speed ahead.
Moving into management requires people to shift their focus from achieving individual success to achieving collective success. And the determining factor of that success changes from what you are able to do on your own to what you are able to accomplish through others. If your main interest is your own career mobility, you will have difficulty gaining the trust and respect of others that is necessary to influence and enable them to succeed. And if they do not succeed, neither will you.
Wanting them to succeed is not enough. You must be committed enough to their success to take the time to coach, mentor and otherwise support them to reach their career goals. If this does not appeal to you, it will feel like drudgery –something you must do that takes you away from all the things you would rather be doing. But if this work does appeal to you, every day will offer new opportunities to find meaning and fulfillment in your work – by helping others discover themselves to be greater than they initially realized, and working toward something bigger than yourself.
Moving into management requires people to shift from the tactical and operational to the strategic. That means that all the things you were good at as an individual contributor will no longer be sufficient to enable you to succeed as a manager and a leader. You will need to enable and rely on others to do those things so that you are freed up to do more strategic, big picture things – things that will require you to go out of your comfort zone.
Your focus must shift from the workings of your individual job to how all the jobs in your department complement each other and what you can do to allow the work of your department to best mesh with other departments and contribute to the organization as a whole. The problems you’ll address will have a larger span and impact than those you were previously accustomed to working on and you will need to collaborate with people you may not have otherwise had to interface with. Additionally, a large part of your job will be envisioning and helping to create a better future – one that will allow the organization as a whole to succeed. Identifying and addressing opportunities that are coming around the bend and matching them to people with the talent necessary to seize them will become a vital part of your work.
It is not uncommon for people in management positions to find that these jobs don’t feel like they’re all they were cracked up to be. If you are one of them, it is important to realize that this doesn’t mean you failed. It simply means that you have succeeded in getting that much closer to finding work that is aligned with your true self – work that will not only bring you satisfaction and fulfillment but also the opportunity to make a vital contribution.
Get busy identifying what you are truly motivated to do. Many organizations have technical tracks that offer the same (or more) upward mobility and financial reward that management tracks do. Pay attention to the opportunities that have beckoned to you in the past – even the ones you thought were too crazy to entertain. If you have a recurring dream of doing anything other than what you are doing now, give it more credence. It just may be the ticket that allows you to find the job of your dreams – and the chance to exercise your own distinct form of leadership, by doing what you were truly meant to do.
Copyright Synchronistics Coaching & Consulting 2010. All rights reserved.
Each month I write a longer, more formal article on a different leadership challenge or opportunity. This month’s leadership briefing is called Creating Your Next Opportunity. Download this and other articles on Transforming Your Vision into Reality for free at www.DianeBolden.com/solutions. While you are there, you can subscribe to receive a new feature article each month. You will also receive my free report on 10 Traps Leaders Unwittingly Create for Themselves – and How to Avoid Them.