Posts Tagged ‘Vision’

Visionaries and Vision-Runners

Article submitted by guest author Dennis Hooper

“There are only two kinds of people in this world–the realists and the dreamers. The realists know where they are going; the dreamers have already been there.”

     Robert Orben, author of Speaker’s Handbook of Humor and speechwriter for President Gerald Ford


There are visionary leaders, and there are vision-runner leaders. There are many more vision-runners than visionaries. Yet visionaries, when they are successful, usually garner greater public attention.

If you were alive in May of 1961, you’ll likely remember the surprising and inspiring words of President John F. Kennedy: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

Following that visionary statement, many vision-runner leaders worked to achieve what seemed impossible at the time. Vision-runners are typically “in the trenches” dealing with the how, the where, and the when and by whom that makes “the what” achievable. They rarely gain public glory, but the accomplishment of inspiring visions would never occur without their leadership.

So, more than anything, this article is about collaboration and inter-dependence.

Let me clarify that a given individual is rarely entirely a dreamer or a realist, totally visionary or vision-runner. Few leaders have the privilege of specializing in only one or the other. Most of us are out there trying our best to accomplish both.

I realize that many of you never considered the distinction between visionary and vision-runner leaders. If you look back at your past history, however, you’ll likely identify more strongly with one or the other.

Although independence is valued in our society, no one is ever successful alone. I recently watched “The Pursuit of Happyness,” the movie describing the homeless years of Chris Gardner. Wikipedia describes Chris as “a self-made millionaire, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and philanthropist.”

The movie is a powerful portrayal of personal tenacity and fatherly devotion to his son. A casual observer would also say it is a description of commanding independence. However, no one is “self-made.” Watch closely and you’ll see that many individuals contributed to Gardner’s ultimate success.

Even more individuals contributed to the successful landing on the moon in 1969. No leader is truly independent! I cannot overemphasize the powerful benefits and value of effective collaboration!

Visionaries are able to read the environment for opportunities. They push the envelope of ideas, generating initiatives and inspiring commitment. Sound mental images motivate and guide people in how to use their time and make choices. A powerful vision is a rallying call for a departure from the past–no more business as usual. The vision requires that people think, talk, and act differently.

However, even the most inspiring idea generates underlying apprehensions, anxiety, and fear of the unknown. Questions need answers. Obstacles require creative elimination. Bright ideas alone do not achieve desirable outcomes. Vision-runners empower and encourage the people doing the work.

Sometimes partners compete. As an outsider, I can see clearly the wasted energy and time consumed because of the subconscious choices made by each party. The visionary lacks patience or doesn’t heed feedback from those under his or her authority. The vision-runner generates unnecessary roadblocks or refuses to consider enhancements beyond the original idea.

However, it’s a work of art when partners value the skills and perspective of the other individual. Together, they model the vision. People observe what they do and see its consistency with what they say. Team members align with the concepts, and great progress occurs rapidly.

I encourage you to consider whether you are more of a visionary or a vision-runner. Whichever you happen to be, welcome a powerful colleague with a complementary skill and perspective, and start cooperating. I predict that delightful successes will begin to occur in a very short time.

Resonant leaders practice conversations that inspire

CEO meeting with team of business associates

Article contributed by guest author Gordon Sanderson.

Research shows that consistently high performing organisations engage strongly with their people in a way that opens them up to greater connection, better cognitive ability and behavior that gets results. Their leaders look to build capability by focusing on strengths and what’s possible rather than weaknesses and compliance. We can gain insights into why this is so by considering how the brain responds to communication.

In response to a perceived threat or reward, or in response to change, the brain moves people toward an “approach” behavior or “avoidance” behavior. It either stimulates a stress response from our emotional brain, through the release of the stress hormone cortisol, or stimulates a positive state by stimulating the prefrontal cortex, the executive functioning part of our brain.

What we say and how we say it influences this. When a person perceives a threat in the shape of criticism, disregard, threat to status, independence, or lack of control, it induces an action in the brain that raises stress levels and reduces cognitive functioning. This result is avoidance behavior. The person withdraws to avoid more stress and in turn loses touch with their constructive self. In contrast, comments that arouse a positive emotional state increase cognitive functioning that allows a person to be at their best, open to new ideas, critical thinking, and engagement in positive change.

Leaders who inspire people use language that opens people up. They appeal to a person’s vision, their strengths and talents, what’s possible for them. They tend to ask questions of the other person rather than telling them “how it should be done”.

Five Tips for more inspirational conversations:

1-Ask questions that open up to vision.

Asking these questions keep people open to possibilities, curiosity and the ability to look at a problem constructively with a solution in mind rather than in an emotional way, which is not forward focused.

2-Acknowledge people for “who they are being”.

It’s easy to acknowledge someone for what they have done but to recognise them for the character that they are showing, connects at a deeper level. You have to be really watching and empathise with a person to genuinely get in touch with who they are being.It is a gift to the other person to acknowledge this and a powerful way of connecting.  Rather than, “you did a great job with that” try a statement that acknowledges the character they showed, such as: “You showed a lot of persistence to get that through” or “that took a lot of courage”. An additional note:  You cannot authentically acknowledge someone at this deeper level without having empathy.  Empathy requires presence, and presence in turn is a form of mindfulness, a stress reducer.  There is a term described by Dr. Richard E. Boyatzis of Case Western University in the United States  “executive renewal”, meaning that certain experiences invoke the renewal process  from stress in the body.  One of these experiences is empathy, and this is because you cannot be truly mindful and stressed at the same time.  Intentionally practicing empathy is one method of getting in touch with executive renewal.

3-Focus on the solution/outcome, not the problem.

Remaining solution orientated connects more with an outcome and allows a problem to be considered in a different way. Research shows that most meetings get bogged down in the problem and the detail. This is because the meeting loses sight of the objective, or never articulates it in the first place. Consequently the problem is all that is discussed. The result is long, unproductive meetings. Try, for example, “The objective of this meeting is to define a set of actions that will take this issue forward towards completion”. Get people to agree to the objective and commit to the outcome and then facilitate to that outcome.

4-Ask, don’t tell.

Ask questions that inspire rather than use statements that seek compliance. If you are opening up to vision this becomes more natural to do. If you focus on problems then it is easy to slip into conversation that seeks compliance.

5-Avoid conversations that will close people down.

Support people’s status. Statements like “let me give you some advice” or putting someone down in front of others arouses a threat response and people disconnect. Respect people’s status and autonomy. A threat to autonomy will close people down and, more importantly raise stress levels. You will lose connection. Ensure people feel connected to the larger picture. A feeling of being disconnected will result in “away” type behavior. Inspire people and they will reward you.

What will you do this week to inspire people through your communication?

Try a different approach to:

  • One on one conversations
  • Team meetings
  • Collaboration
  • Performance Reviews
  • Building Capability
  • Invoking change


Optimism: The Power of Negative Thinking

(This is the second in a series of blogs on Using Positive Psychology in Coaching Social + Emotional Intelligence)

screaming womanThe Power of Negative Thinking?  What’s up?

Consider this scenario.  You’re coaching one of your favorite clients.  They have something really big they want to achieve and you are supporting them.  You’re pulling out all the stops.  You have them picture what their life will be like once they achieve their goals.  You ask them to visualize every detail.  Where are they sitting?  Who is with them?  What’s around them?  Are their toes in the warm sand?  Are their fingers wrapped around the leather steering wheel in that hot new car?  Can they just hear the applause and see the standing ovation after that big speech?  You ask them to imagine what it will feel like once they’ve accomplished this big goal – actually, even more than imagine what it will feel like, you ask them to try to really experience the feeling of it.   What are those feelings?  Will they feel proud?  Confident?  Elated?  Exhilarated?

Good emotional intelligence coaching, right?  You have them visualizing and actually feeling the emotional tug of accomplishing the big goal.   This positive imagery and the associated positive feelings will really help them feel motivated and inspired, right?

Well . . .   not so fast.  According to research conducted by Gabriele Oettingen at New York University, visualizing and even feeling what it will be like to achieve our big goals and dreams in life can actually backfire.


Well, the visualization and emotional pull can help at first, but over the long run, it can trick the mind into relaxing, as if all the hard work has already been done, and the emotional energy we stir up initially around achieving the goal can actually trickle away.  People can actually become complacent.

In one of Dr. Oettinger’s studies, students enrolled in a computer-programming knew they had to excel in mathematics in order to succeed in the program.  All the students had high hopes and a great determination to excel in math.

The students in the program were separated into three groups.   In the first group (the “indulging group”), the students were asked to name (and write down) four positive aspects associated with excelling in mathematics (e.g., feeling proud, getting a better, higher-paying job, getting more job offers to choose from, etc.).

In the second group, (the “mental contrasting group” – see below), the students were asked to name two positive aspects of excelling in math, and two obstacles to reaching their goal in alternating order (e.g., I’ll get a better,  higher-paying job, but I might get lazy and not do the work.  But I’ll get lots more job offers, but then again, I might get distracted).

The third group (the “dwelling group”) was asked to think through and write down four negative aspects of not excelling in math.  (e.g., I’m not smart enough, I don’t have the time to study, etc.)  Ugh.

The teachers in the program tracked the students’ performance for two weeks following this exercise and “graded” the students on how much effort each student had invested over the ensuing two weeks in excelling at mathematics.

Only in the second group, the “mental contrasting” group, where the students considered both the positive AND the negative aspects of achieving their goals, did the students earn the grades needed to achieve the goal of excelling in math.  Not only did they get the grades, they exerted the effort needed, and they also felt far more energized toward the goal compared with the students in the other two groups.

The students in the first group, the “indulging group” who were asked to imagine only the good aspects of success felt only moderately energized, demonstrated only moderate effort, and earned only moderate grades, despite their high expectations for success.  Same for the students in the third group, the “dwelling group” who were asked to think only of the negative.  They too felt only moderately energized, showed only moderate effort and earned only moderate grades.  Students in the first group actually felt de-energized after visualizing their success would come so easily.   Many became complacent.   And those poor students in the third group never felt energized from the start.

Many other studies confirm these findings, including studies on learning a second language, finding work/life balance, smoking cessation, and various other goals related to self-improvement.

Those who simply fantasize about their goals actually feel less energetic about them and end up achieving fewer goals.   One study of mid-level managers at four hospitals in Germany was particularly interesting.  One group of managers was trained in the mental contrasting technique (explained below) and one group was not.  Two weeks after the training, those who had been through the training achieved far more of their short-term goals than their colleagues who did not attend the training.  They also found it easier to make decisions about how to use their time – another benefit of mental contrasting:  by thinking realistically about the obstacles to success, we pick goals we are actually likely to achieve and avoid wasting time on projects that will not get us to our goals.

So what is this Self-Regulation Strategy of Mental Contrasting?

Mental contrasting requires two steps involving both “positive” and “negative” thinking and emotion.  We want to ask our clients (or ourselves) to:

1)     Imagine the attainment of the desired future or goal (“positive thinking”) in vivid detail, and then

2)     Reflect on current reality and the obstacles which may stand in the way (the aforementioned “power of negative thinking”)

This process helps people be realistic in determining whether they can achieve a goal or a desired future state, and whether they can make the commitment to do so.

When the feasibility or expectation of success is high, people commit strongly to attaining the goal; when feasibility is low, they are far less likely to form a commitment to a goal (their goal commitment is weak or simply non-existent).

Mental contrasting is therefore a useful tool in helping clients with realistic optimism, selecting goals that are attainable.   In the process, they reserve their energy and personal resources (time and money) for the goals they can achieve.

An additional benefit of mental contrasting is that it requires individuals to think of the obstacles (or the negative aspects) that could get in the way of goal attainment so they can plan in advance how they can remove those obstacles.

In sum, it helps to have an end goal in mind, and a clear vision or picture of what that goal will be.  Vision, purpose and direction are vital to our success.   They get us to our goals.  But we also need to engage in “mental contrasting” – realistically thinking of the negative and the obstacles that could get in the way so we can plan for them.  We need to think about where we want to be, and realistically where we are now.  Interestingly, this process ends up actually energizing us more toward goal attainment than simply fantasizing and solely engaging in positive thinking.

Optimism is more than hope and positive thinking.  I don’t wish to diminish hope.  Hope is important.  Without hope we have nothing.  But optimism is more than hope.  Optimism is about being realistic about the work involved, and about taking action, and about overcoming obstacles.  Optimism involves considering the negative as well as the positive.

So, give this mental contrasting technique a try for yourself.  Think about something big you would like to achieve and write down at least three benefits of success.  Then reflect on and write down at least three things that could get in the way.  Going through this process helps us direct our motivation and energy where it’s needed most, and also helps us determine whether a particular goal is truly feasible or simply not in the cards.

What are your thoughts?  Have you tried reaching a goal simply by visualizing success while not considering potential roadblocks?  Did it work for you?  Were you successful?  Have you ever tried mental contrasting?  How did that work?

Our new course, Using Positive Psychology in Coaching Social + Emotional Intelligence starts this Thursday, March 7.  Positive Psychology is first and foremost a science.  While it’s “nice” to believe in the power of positive thinking, the science indicates more is needed.  Mental contrasting is just one of over a dozen evidence-based Positive Psychology techniques we will be reviewing to support our practice of Coaching Social + Emotional Intelligence. Come join us this Thursday to learn more!  Register here

6 Quick Tips for Coaching “Vision”

“You don’t seem to have any vision.  And if you do, you aren’t articulating it.” She shrunk under the weight of the words of the CEO.

(Extensive self talk follows.) “Is he right?  Had she failed to articulate her vision?  Did she even have a vision?  Of course she did.  It seemed perfectly clear to her.  Why didn’t he get it?  Must be him.  Maybe he was having a bad day.”

By the time this division director arrived in my office, she had already convinced herself that she was fine and that the CEO was nuts.  My job was to deliver a swift dose of reality.

Truth time.  ”Assuming what the CEO said is true, it sounds like you may be lacking in “inspirational leadership.”  This is one of the key social + emotional intelligence competencies needed by leaders.  You may have a great vision and you just haven’t given it a voice that could create the level of enthusiasm necessary to move the organization and division to the next level.”  She took in the observation and asked the ever important self development question, “so now what?”

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