What if leadership leads to endless possibilities. A sentence beginning with these two simple words, “what if,” can change the trajectory of a leader and an organization. There are many great questions that can guide a discussion, but this may be the greatest of all.
You do not need me to explain how divided we are in the political world. Watching the news or hanging out on social media for a few minutes can provide all the affirmation you need. There is a video circulating on YouTube of leadership communicator and Pastor Andy Stanley addressing the Georgia General Assembly (Link to video provided below). Each day, they invite a “Chaplain of the Day” to kick things off. March 15, 2022 was his day. He took the opportunity to courageously challenge the elected officials of Georgia of what could be in our State.
His early comments focused on how unique politics were. He says, “Unfortunately in your world there are advantages to division, you can raise more money when things are divided….fear of the other party is an asset, division makes it easy to demonize and mischaracterize the other folks.” Then, he asked the “what if” question. “What if we as a State decided we were not going to do that anymore?”
His speech provoked a lot of thought in my world of what a simple question beginning with “what if” could do for our leadership worlds. Here are five thoughts the question provoked in me:
According to the American Optometrist Association, “Middle-aged adults (41 – 60) will begin to notice slight changes in their vision which can progress over time.” Not progress in a positive direction, but progress as in progressively worse.
Asking “what if” allows us to develop vision for the future. I have always defined vision as, “the ability to see further.” Simple, but yet oh so true. Questions can cast vision. They can provide you a set of glasses or corrective lenses that allow you to see further when things are fading. We are all guilty of letting vision fade when the crisis of the day or the mundane clouds our vision for the future.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to see further and to bring people with us to the desired destination. The destination further than most can see.
“What if” questions remove boundaries, tear down fences, and opens up the possibilities of what could be. Removing boundaries allows you to dream. “What if” casts more vision than other questions that begin with how or why. It simply opens doors to think big, without boundaries.
When we dream as leaders, it is critical to remove boundaries. Boundaries will box in innovation, stifle creativity, and suffocate success. Dreaming should be a limitless process with no boxes and plenty of oxygen for success to breathe.
Challenges the Status Quo
The further we go in our leadership journeys, we can become self-proclaimed experts. The more experienced and successful we become, we can fool ourselves into thinking success looks one certain way. For example, many of the people Andy Stanley addressed were successfully elected to public office. Their success in getting elected was likely grounded in tactics he compared to a swimming pool and having to, “push off the wall” to get to the other side. The wall he said we push off of is our enemies. He boldly says to them, “if you need an enemy to lead, you are a poor leader.” Bam!
Our success is grounded in some type of tactic, strategy, or process. If we want our success to be sustainable, we must ask ourselves these “what if” questions. What if we decided that in order to succeed, we would have to reinvent ourselves and our organizations? To rethink the tactics, strategies, and processes that got us there.
We must challenge the status quo, especially when things are good. Failure to do so can create complacency. Complacency is the act of coasting. Rick Warren says when you are coasting, “you are always headed downhill.” Great leaders fail to succumb to complacency. Extraordinary organizations never coast.
“What if” can generate excitement. It proclaims that we are moving forward, not backwards. It sends a message to those we lead that good things are on the horizon. People want to be excited about what is coming. It fuels their tank with enthusiasm.
Momentum is an extremely powerful thing in leadership, especially when it is forward. It is kind of like a train moving down the tracks, it’s hard to stop it quickly. Leaders are the source for their organization’s forward momentum. Create momentum that no barricade, barrier, or bureaucracy can stop.
Acknowledges That It Could Be Done Better
The question can also help us come to grips with things that are not working like they should. It is extremely difficult for us to confess this as leaders. It is for me at least. We want to believe that every program and process we have put in place is effective and efficient. That is okay though. We should believe in what we put in place. None of us ever start something in hopes that it is destine for failure, right?
Great leaders know when it is time to stop doing something, to cut our losses. These are difficult decisions, but as Dr. Henry Cloud says are, “necessary endings.” When we grow to the point of being able to utter the words, “this isn’t working,” then the “what if” is possible.
“What if” questions most often come to me in the middle of complexity. Complex moments are best met with pause. A pause that generates the potential answer for “what if?”
Great leaders lead with questions. Some of the best and brightest leaders I have come across ask great questions. They remain curious. Curious as to the possibilities of “what if?” What if we paused for a moment in our complex worlds and spent time on a “what if” question. The words that comprise the rest of the sentence may determine our future.
Do not miss this as we close. This question is forward thinking. It never looks back. If it does, that is regret. Looking forward inspires things we may have never thought possible. What if leadership makes the impossible, possible. What if…
Andy Stanley addressing the Georgia General Assembly: