I’ve noted that there are 4 critical dimensions of leaders: 1) knowledge, 2) communication, 3) execution, and 4) imagination. While a great deal of emphasis is placed on the first 3, I don’t see enough on imagination. Imagination is what happens in the space between activities of fact based thought, communicating, and executing plans. Imagination is our minds running non-linear paths making inconceivable connections conceivable.
Knowledge is fundamental. It is not just book smarts and subject smarts, but the ability to understand people and organizations. No business, not even the most technical, is void of people. Understanding what makes them tick is critical. Certainly you need to know your subject. There is nothing worse than having a CEO stand up and talk about some new technology and know he doesn’t have clue what he’s talking about. This is TV anchorman syndrome – Ron Burgundy – “Stay classy” – meaningless drivel.
Communication is critical. A leader has to be able to convince others in small, medium, and large groups, the population at large that their direction is correct, and even (gulp!) Wall Street. Today with so many forms of communication and so much of instant, it is a difficult to space to be consistent in your delivery and not get caught off-camera with some inappropriate remark. How many politicians have been zapped by off-camera, but not off cell phone camera, recording, etc. Communications becomes a 24 x 7 job. It is no wonder it often forces leaders to use easily recalled and repeatable sound bites and never stray from the message. The consequences of “being real” can be grave.
Execution is often considered the most important dimension. If you can only think and talk about an idea, but can’t make it happen; can’t change the world; can’t line up the troops and take the hill; you will never be a leader. Unfortunately, I think we often over emphasis execution, especially short term execution, to point the other dimensions falter and more importantly overall effectiveness of the organization fails over time. It is trying to run a marathon as series of sprints. In the end, even an average marathon runner will beat a world class sprinter.
Imagination often gets obscured by Execution. Execution is the rigorous, efficient use of time. If we allow our obsession with execution to overwhelm our imagination, how will we have time for the inefficient use of time spent imagining things being different? Even Edison, who believed in hard work and disciplined execution boarding on fanaticism allowed for imagination.
I’m not asking for nation of lost day dreamers, but I’m asking our leaders to believe in those flights of fancy into the fantastic and turn them into reality. In 2013, the coolest car I saw was a Tesla. The largest recent impact to the modern world is the Smartphone, basically born in 2007 with the iPhone. These are two examples where Imagination followed by brilliant knowledge, execution, and communication has changed our world; however, it all started with imagination.
As we end 2013, what can you imagine different, better, or into existence in 2014?