After years of working with churches, we’re finding that the Imagination element is typically the least exercised of the four critical elements of all healthy organizations (Integrity, Passion, Servanthood, & Imagination).
Imagination has to do with an organization’s capacity for change and innovation. It’s the ability to wonder and interact with the question “What if…?” For leaders, imagination is easily choked by the overwhelming day-to-day routine and thought-consumptive operational-side of leadership. Carving out time to wonder through questions is crucial work for every leader. If you lean toward introversion, it’s imperative to regularly schedule alone time to dream about your organization, ministry area, department or family. For instance, I often did my best thinking in my car, taking day-long drives by myself, about twice a month, often mulling over a single problem or simply dreaming about what could be. This was not a Moses-complex of “going-up-the-mountain-and-coming-down-with-commandments,” but rather a practice for my own sanity and a better way for me to gather my imaginative thoughts since I tended to be a slower, non-verbal processor. As a result, I would take any ideas to our leadership team to process, revamp or question. But the time alone allowed me to mix my imagination with prayer and listening. For you extroverts and external processors, you may need to do this with a team of trusted leaders...and please tell them ahead of time that you’re going to throw out a lot of ideas that are not to be taken as mandates. Or it may be a classic brainstorming time with your leadership team, giving them permission to take part in the process while you find this time a creative jumpstart for yourself. Or finding a trusted consultant or coach that challenges assumptions and probes with questions may be the thing that re-fires your creativity. Sometimes it actually helps to get your head out of the problem that’s keeping you awake and into another activity where you aren’t actually thinking about the problem. Our “problem solving” can get stuck in neural ruts and block our imagination. Leadership guru Warren Bennis once recounted a story told him by Liz Altman, a vice-president at Motorola: “(Sometime back) I was working on my [master’s] thesis and we were finishing classes and interviewing for jobs and doing all this. I spoke to a friend of mine who was about ten years older. I was explaining what was going on and she said, ‘So have you been snowboarding recently?’ I…went ballistic. I said ‘Snowboarding? Do you understand? Have you been listening to anything I’ve just said about what’s going on in my life? I haven’t written chapter two of my thesis yet and I have ten interviews and these people are all annoying me and I’ve got all these classes…and you’re clearly not listening.’ She very quietly said, ‘Liz, you’ve never worked very well this way.’ Later I thought about it and decided to go snowboarding that weekend…(as) corny as it sounds, I figured out the major issue of my thesis while I was snowboarding because I wasn’t thinking about it at all. And literally halfway down the mountain I stopped and went ‘You fool! Why aren’t you thinking about it this way?’” Regardless of the process, carving out time to engage your imagination in your preferred setting is vital for the people or team that you lead. How much time are you currently giving yourself to dream? Dave Workman | Elemental Churches