Sunday, April 10, 2016

Vision: Leadership begins with seeing what is there

When you think of the word "vision," two quite opposite things come to mind. One is physical sight: the ability to see what is in front of you. The other is a more grand and sweeping concept of how the world could be different than it is. Understanding the link between these two apparent opposites is the key to improving the way you walk into your future.

It's always a good idea to begin with what we can test. You can play different games to find out how good you are at recognizing what you can see with your physical eyes. We all have been guilty of searching for something that is right in front of us and of walking through a room (or a textbook) and instantly forgetting what we have seen there. Our visual awareness is a bit sketchy.

Perhaps we need another word. We distinguish between hearing (which is a physical capacity) and listening (which is something we do with our attention). We don't have the same distinction with our eyes: we see something with our physical eyes and we "really" see it with our attention. We can "watch" a game with rapt engagement or we can "watch" without processing. Sometimes we say, "I was looking right at it and I couldn't see it."

Imagine how much harder this makes it when we try to see what is not there, to imagine the future or to compare possibilities. We say a leader has "vision" when they seem to be able to see the details of the future in the same way they can see what is in the room with them. To do that, they have to be able to see what is in the room mindfully, to listen with their eyes. It's not enough to have visual information pass in and out of their brains.

If you want to improve your vision of the future, it's a good idea to start with being more aware of the information that is available to your physical eyes. Practice looking with attention and the intention to remember and make sense of what you have seen. Instead of scanning for the most important piece of information (and so instantly turning everything else into 'background' that you hardly see), look at the scene around you the way a musician hears music: every note played by every instrument is part of the whole. Instead of deleting the background, you can see it as a part of the picture you need to process.

You'll never accomplish this perfectly. There are many reasons why we see one thing at a time but can listen to different sounds as they blend and come together. But as you become better at seeing what is around you, you will also find that you become better at populating your vision of the future with the details you need to make it more useful. A useful "vision" is one that allows you to make a more accurate prediction about the future.

Leaders of "vision" are able to create the future because they can see the present. You can learn to lead by paying increased attention to what is right in front of your nose.

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