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Lessons from Einstein about leading with Vision.

Lessons from Einstein about leading with Vision.

In the early 1900s, Einstein said, "Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions." His larger than life brain brought us ideas and theories that have changed the way we think about time and space through his theory of relativity. In observing his example and gleaning his insights, it can be helpful to examine how our imagination may be the essential element that creates a compelling team vision.  


Insight # 1: Focus on your most compelling interests and passions. 

I often advise clients that every part of them will light up if they narrow their focus on what interests them most. When we make observations about ourselves that are negative, it's almost always ascribed by someone else. The person who thinks you are not patient is observing that you are not patient with their interests. Yet we are immensely patient with what is required by our own passions and interests. 

Einstein reported to an autobiographer that he didn't speak until he was at least three. One has to wonder if he was busy taking in information for his big brain and so compelled by experiencing the world kinesthetically that he had less predisposition for social distractions. When asked if he might consider being the second President of Israel, he declined, stating that he lacked "the natural skills and experience to deal properly with people." This kind of self-awareness and connection with his purpose was uncanny, and a clue that his ego was interested in other things. What's interesting is that he also conveyed that he accepted this understanding of himself. One could assume he knew his interests and purpose. 


Insight # 2. Everyone must be passionate about the vision. 

I've often advised those who have an idea for a startup that they will not likely survive the demands of scaling a business with limited resources unless they are almost willing to sacrifice their life for the unique vision they want to actualize in the world. The enormous persistence, passion, and tenacity required of startup life are only survivable by those who feel utterly compelled by the idea they pursue. Founders are ultimately asking others to devote their lives to the mission, too, so the vision must be uplifting and transcendent in itself. Meaning, it must transcend the pursuit of money alone and engage the hearts of all who will contribute beyond service to the leader. The litmus test for the right team is that they are also motivated by the mission and future state of the vision. 


Insight # 3. Knowledge without imagination isn't enough. 

Another interesting fact about Einstein is that he dropped out of high school at age 15, expressing that his teachers didn't support active imagination and were only interested in the transference of existing knowledge. Not to compare myself to him, but I remember feeling a similar sentiment in graduate school when my research topic was difficult to get approved. My theory of the importance of transcendent leadership was before it's time and not yet accepted in the leadership literature in my domain of study because it was a phenomenological approach to leadership and innovation. I had observed that if the vision is sufficiently uplifting, the result generates exponentially higher levels of productivity and innovation. To get approval for the premise of my thesis, it would require finding 3-4 others who had similar theories with published research before mine. I recall comments about my having "done it all backward and formed my own theory" instead of letting existing knowledge inform the formation of my theory and framework. The lesson? Trust yourself and keep re-inventing yourself and your team. The vision must stay alive in your creative imagination if you are ever to actualize and let it morph organically. 


Insight # 4. Creative ideas happen when you give yourself space. 

Brain researchers have found that reality and imagination flow in different directions in the brain. Visual information from real-time events that are taken in through our eyes flow "up" from the brain's occipital lobe to the parietal lobe, while imagined images trickle "down" from the parietal to the occipital region. Einstein was a proponent of the mid-day walk and regularly took time for leisurely, musical, artistic, or playful interests that made use of other parts of his brain. Activation of our whole-brain appears to naturally help us make the creative connections we call "insights." Without these planned breaks, our minds can get flooded with the wrong chemicals and hinder our imagination and creativity. 

Whenever we get burned out or uninspired by our vision, it's time for a mental break and a period of rejuvenation. Our teams need for us to do this for ourselves, so we set the example and re-imagine the future we want to create together. The spirit of the group is worth whatever time it takes.