What Do You See?  

This posting is dedicated to my dear friend, John Craig

When you close your eyes and think about how things should be, what do you see? Who is there? What are you doing? Where are you? What is a standing ovation, what is average, what is sub-optimal? Why?  Why are you positioned where you are at exactly this time in your life? What are you meant to do? What will you regret if you don’t do?

These and many other questions like them are the types of questions that great leaders ask themselves.  They seem to have the ability to vision how things should be. They have a special ability to see themselves in scenes, much like actors visualize the scenes in which they act. And because they can so clearly see the differing circumstances that they will be engaged and their role when those situations come to pass, they have an uncanny ability to respond naturally, authentically, and effectively.

Viktor Frankl, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Tim Cook of Apple share this in common. They all had a vision of what they wanted to become. They clearly saw themselves in those roles, what they would do, and who surrounded them. Viktor Frankl in his seminal book “Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning” mentions the numerous hours of picturing himself lecturing to a class at a prestigious university like Harvard in elegant settings during the worst days of his captivity at Nazi concentration camps.  Tim Cook did not say much while Steve Jobs was leading Apple, but now that it is his turn to lead, he has made his views known. Many of his views, including his more recent stance at protecting the privacy of apple iPhone users, are long-held values.  Nelson Mandela shared his vision of how he would lead South Africa with a number of people while he was in captivity and actively prepared himself for it, including familiarizing himself with the culture and language of his captors.

Sadly, there are many leaders who do not seem to be able to rise above the day-to-day challenges of managing the shorter-term business issues to place themselves in their dreams. Often, they no longer even dream. They are so swamped with work, emails, meetings, travel, and personal obligations that they have lost their God-given gifts of imagination and seeing themselves in dreams that cast them playing their highest selves. When these leaders finally are blessed with special opportunities that place them at junctures that can give life to their God-given talents and potential, they are not able to recognize them. Since they have not played scenes of their greatness in their heads they squander these moments.  Since they don’t recognize the higher purpose nature has bestowed them and they have not practiced their role and lines in the story, they behave in ways that sabotage their potential.

On the other hand, there are leaders such as my good friend John Craig, who knows his life purpose and prepared himself for just such a moment. When it came he recognized it, and knew how to take advantage of the bounty. John was a successful senior executive at Kraft Foods, Warner Lambert, and Pfizer.  However, from the very first time I met him I knew there was something different about him.  He seemed to have a higher purpose in life.  Even when he wrestled with the day-to-day business issues that all leaders at his level have to address, he always seemed to have a higher purpose for his work.  He cared about the people he led and their welfare.  He knew them by name and asked about their families. He was unpretentious and people could see that he was authentic. He wanted to manufacture and sell products that were good for people and made them healthier and whole.  Since he had experimented with many different types of work, taken sabbatical leave from work, travelled the world and seen the ups and downs of life, he had ample opportunity to know what resonated with his values and what did not.  With the combination of the discovery of Lipitor and the hostile take over battle of Warner Lambert by Pfizer, John found himself in a situation where he had the means to make a real difference in the world.  He took advantage of the opportunity and, together with his wife Judy, started a non-profit organization called Eliminate Poverty NOW (EPN).

The mission of EPN is to empower the extreme poor in Africa to lift themselves out of poverty. John and Judy have dedicated themselves to eliminating poverty through modern agricultural know how, educating children, and giving people the knowledge and opportunity to build a better life.  You can read about their amazing initiatives at their website http://www.eliminatepovertynow.org/.

When John speaks of his work in Africa I get the sense that I am in the company of a man who has prepared himself for the greatest chapter of his life.  One that comes from his soul and fulfills him.  One that does not feel like working to pay the bills. Mondays don’t bring gloom and Fridays exhilaration.  In this place, every day is a great day.  But before John was blessed with this opportunity, he spent a lifetime preparing himself and imagining himself in it.  When he found himself in that place of potential and possibilities it was a homecoming that he could not pass up.  And thousands are thankful that he did.

Interestingly, as children, most of us were able to see ourselves in future scenes and dreamed of our greatest moments.  Somewhere along our journeys we started to say to ourselves things like “come on, that is not realistic”, “they don’t pay me for day dreaming”, “I don’t see anyone else doing that…” and a host of other self-limiting narratives. Time is the most precious commodity.   It is time for us to vision our greatness and recognize the opportunities that are bestowed on us to get there.


Questions for online conversations

  1. When was the last time you visualized yourself in your greatest scenes?
  2. What gets in the way of your dreams?
  3. What can you do?




About Kaveh Naficy
Kaveh is the leader of Heidrick and Struggles executive coaching practice in North America. Kaveh focuses on working with leaders placed to make transformational and creative changes in their organizations. Kaveh has a proven record of success in harnessing the strengths of these leaders to achieve accelerated business solutions. He is able to create significant insights through reflective thinking, presence, and disciplined follow-through. Executives who have worked with Kaveh say that his strengths are his deep insights into the realities of the current and future business world, accelerated scanning of the environment and competition; creative out of the box thinking, and leveraging the collective intelligence of their teams and creating the organizational culture to support and foster the appropriate organizational design and strategies. They also point their deep trust and personal connectivity with Kaveh, his coaching approach, and style.

5 Responses to What Do You See?  

  1. Kathi Love says:

    This was an inspiring message. Thank you for reminding us to return to our dreams.

  2. Tom Ward says:

    Thanks, Kaveh. Basic awareness of our self-limiting narratives is so important. It allows us to form more optimistic, hope-filled narratives capable of unleashing our true potential and serving the causes worthy of our only pass through this wonderful gift of a life we all have.

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