THE BLOG
10/28/2014 02:42 pm ET Updated Dec 28, 2014

Is Your Imagination Undermining Your Success?

As leaders, imagination is a vital tool. Often the organizational visions we paint originate right from of our imagination. As Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand." Thus, imagination has no boundaries or limitations. It is central our organization's success and we need to let it breathe.

Imagination is one of those words that remind us of children playing. A child's bedroom can be a castle for the royal family, a spaceship to a distant galaxy or a spooky cave to be explored. The possibilities are infinite. Sadly, as we become adults and start working, we may shut down our imaginations as we are told to be more rational, face reality (often someone else's) and focus on results.

Critical to the success of any vision is the need for it to be at least 51% believable. Playing with our imagination over and over starts to raise the believability index to higher percentages. When we create a vision for the organization, one of two approaches are frequently used. We may create a slogan and hang it on the wall, taking no further action to accomplish the vision. Or we may create a vision that is reinforced by the actions we take as leaders. We work with the people in the organization, breaking down the vision into bite size next-action-steps, and praise people who contribute to the organization's success. Which do you imagine works best?

Imaginations are very fertile ground for both positive and negative images. FEAR, an acronym for False Expectations Appearing Real, embeds itself in our imagination. Another word for these False Expectations is worry. When we enter into worry, we are creating a negative future fantasy. Some leaders let the worry grow and build upon itself by imagining ever-greater negative outcomes. Often this FEAR immobilizes us, and we hesitate or even stop taking action. Additionally, when we do take action we may second-guess ourselves and sometimes criticize ourselves for the actions we do take.

As a result, we stop living in the present. Being present is a significant aspect of leader presence. The people we lead will sense when we aren't present. They will see the worry on our face and start interpreting what it means to the organization and perhaps their own financial future. FEAR is highly contagious.

Our first challenge is to become aware that we are worrying. We need to catch ourselves in the act of worry and ask ourselves, "What is happening right now?" The more detailed we are in describing the here and now, the more we move into being present.

We can also use this very same worry as a planning tool. This requires using our FEAR to create and develop positive expectations. For every negative fantasy that emerges from our imagination, we can create new and useful positive outcomes. We might say to ourselves, "If this happens, I can do ______." This is a very simple action to take, though it may not be easy in the beginning. Taking this action every time we have FEAR begins to loosen the grip it has on our imagination.

After all, do we want to win or lose in our imagination? A good friend of mine once said, "Only a fool loses in his imagination." Might we be fooling ourselves by holding negative future fantasies that cause us to worry?