Imaginative Leadership

“Now there is an imaginative leader!”

Says almost no one ever.

Innovative yes. Visionary occasionally. Gutsy sometimes. Imaginative? Rarely.

In fact, “imaginative” can carry negative connotations when applied to leadership. Impractical? Lost in their own head? Childish? Disconnected from reality?

Yet I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we’re missing out on something very powerful when we discount imagination in leadership.

Have you spent any time with imaginative people lately? Toddlers win at this game, and here’s what I notice about them:

  1. They are immersed and fully present in their imaginings. They rarely say, “Imagine if I pretended to be a purple kangaroo.” They just start hopping.
  2. They get started and sort out the glitches as they go along. I don’t hear them listing all the reasons why being a kangaroo won’t work or what the critical success factors will be. They just start hopping.
  3. They build on what they know. These purple kangaroos know the word for kangaroos. They know how to hop. They’ve seen purple things before. It’s the combination and extension of these familiar elements in unexpected ways that is exciting to them.
  4. They invite others into the world they’re picturing. These hopping kangaroos try to get your attention and encourage you to hop along with them.
  5. They welcome wonder. Have you gasped in delight lately?
  6. They don’t take themselves too seriously. Imaginative play usually puts a smile on their face — or at least results in a laugh at the end.

This idea of imaginative leadership involves more than being playful or childlike. It calls us to be inspired, welcome surprises and compel collective action. Without an idea of a different destination in our heads, our future actions look far too much like our past ones.

So much more could be said about this! If you’d like to read more about it, check out my previous posts on well-equipped decision makers and creativity, From What Is to What If and The Imagination Machine. If you’d like to discuss it with others interested in exploring collective imagination, join us for my new workshop series ELASTIC: Leaders who stretch without snapping back.

In the meantime, perhaps settle into a single question for today: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we…?”

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