Leadership is overwhelmingly about the future. It’s the reason leaders even need to exist. If the future wasn’t important or couldn’t be changed, there would be no need for leaders at all.
It’s often been said that leaders need to peer into the future to see it ahead of time. Or they need to be able to predict the future or spot trends so their teams and businesses can adapt and move toward the greatest opportunities.
The truth is, leaders do not need to be clairvoyant or psychic, or even ahead of the curve. Leadership is not about knowing the future. It is about creating the future.
This team you have, this business you have, even this self you have, doesn’t depend on your ability to be correct about what is ahead, but instead depends on your ability to decide what should be ahead and make changes that bring that future into existence.
During coaching conversations, clients sometimes tell me that our conversations are a bit like therapy. But therapy is often about going back, finding out what is driving sets of behaviors that are present and changing thought patterns about what has happened in the past. Coaching is purely and completely about helping someone decide what their future should look like and then supporting them as they build that future through changes in thinking, behavior, and habits.
Leadership is just that. It is about taking your team to a new place but one that they have learned to identify, care about, and move in the direction of. It’s about having conversations, interactions, and experiences with others that take them through that process of identifying their best future and starting to build it. It is glaringly evident that a great leader can change the future for anyone they interact with.
That’s an incredible opportunity and an incredible responsibility. Leaders have to be completely aware that every conversation they have could have negative impact, no impact, or positive impact. Owning how you plan for, practice, and engage in those conversations will determine which one you have.
It’s true that when you are in a leadership role, you will have more of an effect on the behavior of others, even if it’s only because of the way people think about hierarchy and authority. Part of their thoughts will be focused on what you want, what you expect, what you will think, and how you will react. That’s a foregone conclusion in many businesses. Unfortunately, if they are worried about what you want, they are not thinking about what their best might be. If they are worried about how you will use your authority, they are not focused on how they develop their strengths further. And if they are trying to guess your thoughts, they are not exploring their own best thinking. As leaders, we sometimes have to overcome our authority, not leverage it, to lead at our best.
Here are some ways to help people, or even yourself, envision the best future and move in that direction so that we get to have a positive impact on the thoughts, actions, and outcomes of others.
1. Create insight
That’s the moment our brain considers new possibilities. Use constant questions to cause people to think about possibilities. You can create insight for others even without their permission by asking questions like “what would your next step be” or “how would you do that differently next time?”
2. Challenge oppositional thinking
If you are human, immediately after you consider a possibility, you often consider all of the reasons it won’t work, can’t happen, or isn’t something you can execute. It may be that there’s not enough time or information. Or it’s something you have never done before or don’t have the resources for, etc… No new thing gets attempted if we decide ahead of time that it won’t or can’t work. And a better future is built on attempting new things. Use questions like, “if those things weren’t in your way and there was nothing that could stop you, what would be your first step?” Or “if you had to overcome those challenges, how would you go about it?” Leading another person or yourself is about creating new possibilities, not focusing on roadblocks.
3. Support with vision
Confidence is simply about moving from idea to execution. Other people’s belief in us causes us to reevaluate our own confidence level. Letting someone know that you believe they can exert effort and make progress in a new direction, is often the very catalyst that gets them to try. Phrases like “I think you can make real progress here if you simply apply some effort. Let’s talk about what you want to do as you move forward.” Or “I believe you can be exceptional at this if you want to and I would love to help you do that if you are interested.” Believing in, investing in, and supporting others as they create a new and better future for themselves is one of the most rewarding things a leader can do. Expect them to stumble, fall, and struggle. Doing new things means we are bad at them before we are ever good at them.
Use your interactions with others and even in your own thinking to make little changes happen in your thinking. These are the seeds that grow into an entirely new set of possibilities. As a leader, we get to help plant those seeds every single day.
There is no greater difference for us to make than to create a better tomorrow. Only leaders can do it. And it desperately needs to be done.