So says Alan Kay, and we wholeheartedly agree. So how do we “invent” our future? To wrap up 2020 we hosted a virtual gathering on the leadership lessons from the year. One theme we shared was that leaders are the “meaning-makers” of their organizations and those leaders have a choice about being the storyteller or the story told. As you begin a new year, one we know is critical for many of you, we invite you to be the storyteller of how this next chapter goes for you and your teams, starting with a practical first step.
An exercise we often include in our leadership development programs is writing “Letters from the Future.” You can do this individually, or use it as a powerful tool for bringing a group of people together around a shared vision of success (as an example, you could do this with your executive team or everyone that will be executing on an important strategic project this year). You’ll then want to work backward from that vision to design how you’ll get there. You can download our handout for this exercise to share with your team: A Letter from the Future
Robin wrote her own Letter from the Future which you can read here as an example. It’s written as if it was a year from now, after her first year as CEO of Conversant.
If you do write some Letters from the Future, let us know! We’d love to hear what you learn from the experience. If you’d like to explore how we could help guide your leadership team through an experience like this, send us a note and we’ll be happy to connect with you.
Mickey: Hello everybody this is Mickey Connolly from Conversant and I am pleased to be here today with the Chief Executive Officer of Conversant, Robin Anselmi. We’re happy to be with you again because the Connection Diaries have been enjoyable for us, and many of you said enjoyable for you. So Robin, what are we doing today?
Robin: Well thanks, Mick. At the end of the year, we had a community gathering, which is another one of the events that we’ve had over the course of last year that we will continue into 2021 that we’ve enjoyed, and Mickey, you and Jim Motroni and I had a really great conversation about leadership and what have we learned about leadership in 2021. One of the themes that came up out of that was leaders as meaning makers, that one of the chief responsibilities of leaders is to make sense for organizations and make meaning out of where we are. We said something in that around you have a choice about being the storyteller or the story told, which sounds really great, and often people go, “Okay, that’s good, now what do I do with that?” So I thought today, we could talk about, well, what do you do with that?
Mickey: Well, the notion of story, as we all know, is deeply human, and we think tapping into the nature of being human is always wise, and designs that are inconsistent with the nature of being human are unwise. So, we like tapping into people’s desire to tell stories and look at it like, how about stories from the future? And there’s some things that we’ve done that have been both practical and profound for people that we can actually walk you through that we think you can do related to any strategic intention that you think is meaningful in 2021. So Robin, what do you say about writing letters from the future?
Robin: Well first, you have to figure out who the right group of people is for you, so that could be an exec—your executive team—or a team that’s working on a particular strategic initiative or project, and really to have everyone gather and think about, it’s a year from now—or if you need to do three years, do three years from now—and have people write a letter. And it—we encourage you to have it be an actual letter, so this is about storytelling and telling the story of what you imagine things to be like. So, if things are wildly successful with your strategic initiative, with what the team is trying to advance, what will the work be like? What will life be like? What will be the impact? Who would benefit from that? We encourage people to write it to someone, so to pick someone that to them is meaningful, related to this work or meaningful to them in their life. To write it as a letter, not as bullet points. Right, we get so tired, everybody wants to write everything as a bullet pointed list. This is the art of actually telling the story of what would—what would your life and your work look like if you accomplish that. We ask everyone to do it individually, so everybody writes an individual letter, and then you share them, and everybody reads their own letter, and you start listening for what are some of the common themes in that letter so you can actually create a shared vision of that future.
Mickey: And we find these letters from the future—when you appreciate one another’s picture of it, you see different parts of the system, and you end up putting together a connected letter from the future that all of you are happy to be authors of, that really has people’s head, heart, and guts in it. So, we find this to be really practical and meaningful for people to do this. Robin mentioned something that we think is—goes by so fast it doesn’t occur to people how practical it is, which is, if in your letters from the future you’re looking at who benefits, who are the people who will have benefited if we are writing this victorious letter from January of 2022? Those people are actually resources for truly having this come to pass. So another thing that we think is really important is, you then, with the team, walk back from that future. Do it from the future back to now where you say, quarter by quarter, what would have had to be true by November 1st for instance for this January vision to be true? And you walk back two or three months before that, two or three months before that. And we find that when you do that, you can’t step over what’s necessary. You run into the practical realities of the year, and you don’t spend your time on as much extraneous things as you do if you try to make your plan by walking from today to the future.
Robin: Lastly, for me anyway, this exercise really does bring the heart into the work so that people really can find themselves and find their own inspiration, and what would this feel like for them? Because in the day-to-day overwhelm that we all get sucked into in this small little box that it feels like we live inside, really being able to connect people back to the meaning of the work is so important. So again, as leaders, this is your opportunity to be the meaning makers for the organization and to create one that’s collective for everyone.
Mickey: You know, we’ve gotten so much input from the multiple generations working together in organizations today that the issue of work being purposeful—being meaningful—is growing in importance. And we think as much remote leadership as there is today, it’s more important than it has ever been that people experience, this is my own work that I’m doing in the self-supervising love of the achievement. We actually think it’s time for us to embrace that leadership’s job is to marry the practical and the profound so that people are enjoying making important things happen. And here, you have a chance to have that be a function of their connected intelligence.
Robin: So, we hope that you give a letter from the future a try. If you do, please drop us a note. We’d love to hear what you learned from it, what your experience of it is. And we will be seeing you next month. Thanks everybody.
Mickey: Goodbye for now.