Posted February 15, 2013on:
Morning Widdershin friends and here’s hoping in case you translated all your Valentines into Latin for the fun of it, they all contained future perfect verbs.
State of the Union addresses are interesting to me. They are the one time a year when we put ruffles and flourishes on the tribal custom of coming around the campfire and listening to the elected leader tell us how we are doing and where we should hope to go in the coming year. Convening around the campfire, albeit now a teevee, is a custom as old as recorded time itself.
This year’s was another in a long line of SOTU laundry lists. For such a lauded speechifier as everyone tells us President Obama is, outside of giving the victims of gun violence the respect of a vote on gun safety, there wasn’t much oomph there. True to form, this year’s SOTU was another “at the margin of the margin” prescriptions along the lines of something Bush the Elder might have delivered.
There were some good things in the speech, but they were pilot projects of policy amuse bouches of what good things ought to be. There was a call for much-needed immigration reform everyone agrees needs to be done — done not because it is the right thing to do, but done because the pasty strategists of both parties believe it will make them competitive in future elections.
There was a call for a “phased-in” raise in the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour — too bad it isn’t a phase-out for the fact that the hourly minimum wage is worth 15% less than a 1968 hourly wage. There was a call for the Paycheck Fairness Act and for passage of the VAWA, but since somewhere it is written you can‘t make feet-draggers angry by publicly commenting on their dilatory tactics, they were just another two items on the laundry list.
But I digress, I don’t want this post to be a critique of the items in the speech, I want to use the speech as a springboard to look at one of the essential elements in leadership — visioning.
There is nothing more central to leadership than having a vision of what the future should look like. World-class effective leaders paint a picture of how the future will look — not in drab, lifeless tones, but in vivid, graphic, sensory-tingling mind pictures.
Visioning is essentially the same talent as exhibited by the tribal campfire’s most effective storytellers. The successful storytellers were the ones who could make you see and feel and smell and taste what the future would look like. You would find yourself wanting to go there with the storyteller — be glad to go there with the storyteller — eager to follow the storyteller.
The effective leader sees the future and he/she has a vision of what that future is. This simple concept tells the “how” of the process, but it doesn’t tell the “why” of the process and I find that the most intriguing part of this transformational synergy.
Dr. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel winner and father of behavioral economics, and someone with whom I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time, explains the internal cognitive process like this:
We don’t choose between experiences, we choose between memories of experiences. Even when we think about the future, we don’t think of our future normally as experiences. We think of our future as anticipated memories.
To analogize, a great speech is not some grocery shopping list, but the collective anticipated memory of a family gathering around the table where the food is an afterthought. Painting the picture of where we anticipate we want to be is much more important than mere step-by-step directions. Telling us how to get there isn’t nearly as important as what we anticipate to remember of our trip. It’s not the flour, eggs, and sugar of the recipe, it is the celebration around the cake.
That is an essential element of leadership — it isn’t a performance filled with platitudes, it is the shared collective ethos of where we want to be. This is how leadership molds public opinion and can ride the crest of polling numbers. It is how you raise the dialogue above the mire of tactics to the sublime of a clarion collective public desire.
If you will indulge me over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to do some visioning about what’s over the horizon and what we are “not” hearing from our leaders. There won’t be many answers, but I promise there will be lots of questions upon which we can collectively chew.
This is an “all skate” open thread.
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