The Prophetic Imagination, written by theologian Walter Brueggemann, offers a picture of how prophets imagine things. He writes, “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”
Perhaps being prophetic is an unfair expectation for today’s leaders, although I’m sure religious circles have persons in their midst with this gift. My reason for making the case is simple. Our society has big problems and we seem to lack the imagination required to engage in creative solutions. Business and political systems have deeply entrenched systems and ideologies that discourage new ways of thinking. It’s easier to talk about change than to actually implement it.
In my facilitation work, I am often asked to help clients create strategic plans. Traditional planning often fails to include imagination. Instead, it emphasizes identifying the weaknesses and threats being faced, a kind of navel gazing about the problems.
While my process doesn’t ignore problems, it invites everyone to imagine what their future could look like if problems were solved or reframed as opportunities. The energy that emerges during these imagination discussions is often the highlight of the entire planning process.
It’s easy for leaders to undervalue the role of imagination, of dreaming about what is possible.
The daily grind of competition, pace of change, and need for control tend to dominate C-Suite thinking. We are too focused on protecting our point of view, market share, or ideology to actually invite new ways of thinking to emerge.
The prophetic voices in biblical times were not afraid to challenge the status quo or speak the truth to power. While their messages were often dark and foreboding, they also focused on a yet unseen future, one filled with hope, justice, and compassion for all. Their imagination freed them from the constraints of conventional wisdom and allowed them to express in new ways what God’s purposes could look like.
The cynic in me imagines most leaders today rejecting the notion of assuming a prophetic role. I see few examples where those in power know how to listen, demonstrate an ability to be introspective, or show humility when challenged with opposing views.
Imagination flourishes when we…
- Are willing to live with some ambiguity about the future.
- Allow ourselves to get in touch with the real needs that must be addressed.
- Consider that our idea may not be the best or only one.
- View the world through a lens of abundance rather than scarcity.
- Ask better questions.
I have witnessed the power of imagination to energize a team of leaders. I have seen how imagination can galvanize an organization around a cause or purpose larger than themselves. I have experienced the way imagination can create a path toward lasting change.
This seems like enough evidence to make a case for prophetic leaders. I hope I can live up to my own expectations.
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