What it takes to be visionary - Natalie Nixon

“Where does visionary leadership come from? Where does vision come from? It’s easier if we have people around us to model behavior that’s super aspirational.

“So, for example, I just decided to study cultural anthropology in college after reading Janetta B. Cole’s book ‘Anthropology for the 90s.’ It was the first time I saw a reflection of myself, an African American woman anthropologist wearing lip gloss with manicured hands. It wasn’t a bunch of older white men in a National Geographic magazine digging dirt and villages somewhere far away.

“Sometimes that vision for oneself comes from it being modeled around us and that’s awesome, but you don’t always get that opportunity to have it modeled for you. It comes from dreaming, it comes from making stuff up and pretending, and then in small iterative stages putting it out there. Another example, I’m a creativity strategist, I never heard of that phrase before I made it up, and it really embodies what I love and what I’m good at. So having a vision really also requires courage, curiosity, and wonder. Those are my thoughts about what it takes to be a super visionary and as we go into a new year, this is the perfect time to start thinking about this.”

“What is in a name? Everything is in a name. I was coaching a client yesterday talking about this wonderful principle that goals are dreams of deadlines and figuring out what would work for him tactically to make sure that happens. One of the most important things is to write things down. When we write things down it’s a type of naming ceremony and we know that when we name things they get energized. We also get energized about them, it gives them energy, it makes us much more accountable and it gives them power.

“Just a couple of tips on how to get better at writing things down and making sure that your goals are dreams of deadlines:

“First: On a practical level, keep a piece of paper and pen nearby at all times

“Second: Try using Evernote. I love Evernote, it’s a wonderful way for me to organize my work and I literally have a folder in Evernote that’s called ‘write it down’ or ‘write this down’ so I can dump ideas that are occurring to me while I’m washing dishes, while I am at a stoplight, while I’m watching a Netflix documentary, etc. The other cool thing about it is that I can take a snapshot a picture of something I’ve scribbled down and add it to the folder.

“Third: I really recommend Otter. I love the otter app because it’s a dictation app and it allows me to capture my thoughts and then it sends me a written transcript.

“So there is a few ideas and remember goals are dreams with deadlines.”

“I recently had a great conversation with Karen the host of the ‘Behind the Mind’ radio show based in Washington DC. She asked me a really good question: how can companies improvise more?

“It really starts with building a culture of experimentation. You have to encourage curiosity and for people to ask questions, that all starts with leadership. I don’t just mean leadership at the top. I’m a big believer of emergent leaders, leaders who are at the margins, leaders who are newer to the team or to the organization but are modeling self-reflexivity and asking questions of oneself. This then leads to an ability to be open to prototyping instead of waiting for the big reveal. As you’re working on a project in secret oxygenate, air it out in small iterative stages and get feedback, that way you’ll get buy-in, you’ll build allies in the process and you won’t make mistakes later after millions or hundreds of thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on this project.

“The way to improvise more: start with curiosity, build a culture of experimentation and be open to prototyping.”

“Here are a couple of tips about what to do when you’re on the verge of doing something but you’re afraid:

“I have this expression that when you’re 50 percent terrified and 50 percent exhilarated about something, leap. The terror will keep you grounded and anchored and keep you like sharp on your toes. The exhilaration will keep you optimistic and buoyant. But, until you get to that point where you’re ready to leap, you think you want to apply for a new job you think you want to launch that project that’s been in your back pocket for years or that you want to write that book or submit an application or proposal, here’s two mindsets to take on:

#1: The Glib mindset: when you have a totally Glib attitude, where you don’t take yourself so seriously, it’s a lot easier because the stakes don’t feel as high. So for example, many years ago I was a very young early stage professor. I was an assistant professor, I had a year under my belt and my dean sent me an application to apply for a fellowship. I thought, ‘I can’t apply for this, I don’t have a PhD, all these other people will be applying will be much more pedigreed than me. I can’t do this.’ So, I basically talked myself down from the tower by saying ‘what the heck, I’m going to try anyway.’ I might even had a glass of wine by my computer while I was filling up the application, but basically, I wrote that a researcher will need a full round trip business class ticket to South Africa, research will need a new laptop computer, etc, I went on and on, and to my amazement, I received the fellowship. I credit a large part to my not taking myself so seriously, not thinking there was no chance that I would ever get the opportunity and it took away all of those inhibitions, all those fears, and I went for it.

#2: In addition to the Glib mindset is the rage mindset. I was talking to a friend of mine who has recently moved abroad to Switzerland to begin a new chapter of her career and she was talking about the value of rage applications. When you have one of those days in your job where you feel totally taken for granted, ignored, not totally valued, try this technique. She just went home and she looked up job openings that she thought were totally aspirational, there was no way she would ever get a call back from these positions and just for the heck of it, out of rage to internally getting back at her boss and her colleagues, she went and applied. To her surprise, she got a call back which led to a conversation, an interview and several conversations later, an offer.

“Those are the two mindsets that are super important to make those creative leaps. The Glib mindset: don’t take yourself so seriously, just go for it. And secondly the rage mindset: where you just feel so empowered and you just want to stick it to the other person.”

!mpact Magazine is a platform where people with a vision can share their ideas and insights.