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August 2009
Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence

Wisdom to lead minds:

"If you do not expect it, you will not find the unexpected,
for it is hard to find and difficult.”

Heraclitus, 500 B.C.

Why most leaders are unhappy about the uptake of their ideas

Time magazine recently reported that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has really struggled to develop his public profile, and that he is disappointed to be known as “invisible man.”

This seems surprising, because the United Nations is the world’s peak body ‘for international relations and one of its most recognised institutions. And Ban Ki-Moon has an enviable track record of achievement in conflict resolution, action on climate change and positive intervention in Sudan.

Many leaders experience the same problem. It is comforting to be associated with leading a major and well known organisation, but that alone is not enough to cut through to those most important in adopting and supporting your ideas.

Leaders new to their roles are often seduced by the assumption that because they lead a well-known organisation, sometimes even iconic organisations like the United Nations, that others will automatically give their ideas attention and support. Within a few months most realise that this influence by association is largely an illusion.

It is a stubborn illusion, and one that unnecessarily holds back many otherwise influential leaders from achieving their full potential.

But don’t need such a position to project and convince with your ideas? Many people believe so, despite the evidence to the contrary. There are many leaders like Ban Ki-Moon who struggle for the impact they feel they need to make their contribution to an area of thought. And there are many who achieve this from virtually no platform at all. Take Albert Einstein. On finishing his studies in physics, he could not find a job at a university or laboratory to pursue his research interests. To feed his family he worked for years as a clerk in the Swiss Patents Office, checking and recording patent applications. He started with no scientific standing among Europe’s scientific elite, and had many job applications rejected.

Yet he used his courage to imagine the previously unimaginable. Then he applied his resilience and analytical skill to spend years of trial and error calculations to prove these insights. In this process he was vilified by almost all his peers who saw his ideas as heresy to the long accepted Newtonian views of gravity and the basic laws of the universe.

Yet working mostly alone with only his eyes to observe and pen and paper to record and calculate, Einstein used his brilliant imagination to render redundant most of what his contemporary physicists knew about their science and their world.

Jim Collins coined the phrase “Good is the enemy of great” to articulate the complacency that prevents good organisations from becoming great. This same principle seems to hold back many leaders from developing and implementing really significant ideas. Too often they default to ideas that lead only to incremental gain rather than breakthrough gain. Or worse, they default to the wishy washy relativism that tries to stay safe and avoid criticism.

People are yearning for leadership that expresses bold ideas, embraces big visions that mean something to them, and expresses these ideas with passion and authenticity.

“Reasonable” people scale their thinking to a false view of what seems “normal.” This is mostly based on their past experience and their view of their current circumstances. But it takes no account of the true potential of themselves or those same current circumstances. If Einstein had accepted such emotional boundaries to his thinking, the world would be vastly different today.

The first step in developing thought leadership of any consequence is to take seriously your capacity to identify and solve big and meaningful problems and challenges. To a surprising degree this kind of thinking mostly comes not from the corporate, government and service firm elites, but from those less ensnared by the conventions and expectations of those worlds.

This need not be so. It just means that it is sometimes harder for people whose thinking has propelled them to a position of status and influence in major organisations. It is more of a struggle for them to understand that they will need a different level of thinking to jump to the next level.

Every leader, and every individual, has the potential to be a game-changer in some area of human activity. Those who activate that potential first make a decision to challenge the status quo, not out of rebellion but in a wide-eyed search for better ideas and better ways of making important contributions.

To lead with ideas in any field is to first be prepared to think differently. Most people won’t do that, so your advantage is greater if you decide to be one of those who do.

Make that decision today, tomorrow and every day onwards.

More next month...


Geoff Kelly works with leaders who are frustrated that others don't fully support their ideas and strategies. He mainly works with corporate leaders around the world, but also leaders in Government and Not for Profit. He is also a popular speaker on this and related subjects. See www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au, email [email protected] or call +613 9678 9218 for more information


© 2009 Geoff Kelly All rights reserved.
You are free to use material from the Leading Minds eZine in whole or in part, as long as you include complete attribution, including live web site link. Please also notify me where the material will appear. The attribution should read: "By Geoff Kelly of Kelly Strategic Influence. Please visit Geoff's web site at www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au for additional articles and resources on earning support for your ideas and strategies." (Make sure the link is live if placed in an eZine or in a web site.)



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