What’s Reality Got to Do With It?

My Partner and colleague-in-arms, Malcolm Follos attended a Conference recently where he heard musician and community activist Dave Stewart point out that we often hear of turning dreams into reality, but what he had to do at a challenging juncture of his life was to turn reality into dreams.

Fascinating to consider as leaders. On the one hand leaders have to take “visions” and “ideals” and grand aspirations and build a bridge from those lofty heights into the valleys of everyday execution. Far more leaders can summon dizzying rhetoric than can claim inspiring, focused, execution — much less execution with a relevant and living dashboard and an aligning of the rewards and performance culture or their organization, accordingly.

Those that do this with some combination of manic focus yet keep that balanced with openness to ongoing input from the world-at-large, engagement of people and yet leaving no doubts about what everyone is accountable for, with relentless imagination yet a fact-based commitment to facing what is “real” today, become business winners and take on the hue of legend. It’s conceptually straightforward, but personally exacting. It’s energy-intensive and requires us to shelve our personal ego and take on a corporate ego to a large extent. We take a stand for a possibility we will enroll others to help us manifest and call forth.

But as the line from Dave Stewart reminds us, leaders also have to take today’s realities, often tough and demanding realities, often energy-sapping and confidence-depleting realities — realities of downturns and recessions, war and peace, customer defections, breakdown of teams, intransigent external or internal bureaucracies to contend with — and transform them into a path forward. And often we have to, in the midst of the turmoil, create our equivalent rallying commitment to say taking down the Berlin Wall or transcending apartheid.

Only then can we summon and galvanize the individual energies and collective passion needed to turn today’s base metal into tomorrow’s performance gold. Leaders earlier we said had to be bridge builders — bridging from an end in mind to today’s actions. We are now saying, they also have to be alchemists: takingĀ  what we encounter today and converting our obstacles into source material for our progress.

There are less grand applications of this as well. In our personal lives, we have to have larger goals that drive us. And we have to translate those larger goals into habitual daily and weekly behaviors that can deliver them. We have to behave our way to our vision as I so often relate in sessions. How else will we possibly get there?

Equally in our personal life we often see wreckage — dysfunctional habits or relationships, messes, areas we aren’t proud of. Here we have to take the wreckage and be architects. We have to dream forward from our most challenging realities. As Robert Browning said so unforgettably, Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?”

These are wonderful twin capacities, bridging from our visions to today’s actions, and transforming today’s realities into the future-focused application whereby we galvanize dreams. As leaders and as individuals, we need to get good at both. Arguably, together, they are a large part of what success is all about…and what life as a whole could be, or perhaps even should be, all about as well.