“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” said Woody Allen once. Ingenious as always, he hit on a fact of life we all struggle with. As we get back to work and face the year to come, we are severely tempted to set goals and commit to plans. But plans, my friend, are actually holding your leadership back!
Did I say tempted? I came up short: in today’s society planning is expected, enforced, trained and evaluated constantly on every front. “What are your plans for Christmas? How do you expect to have a nice family holiday if you don’t schedule it now?” These are the type of questions asked of you over coffee. Then you’re told you should really start thinking about the school you want to apply to for your unborn child. After that, somebody comments on how you will be a total failure in life if you have not written down exactly where you want to be working in ten years time. Are you exhausted from this pressure yet? I certainly am!
Being constantly subjected to this kind of pressure as an adult is annoying, but we’re supposed to be ready for life’s challenges, right? Our kids, however, are not. And our shared obsession with controlling future outcomes of everything we do is spreading to the way we educate new generations. We find ourselves pressuring our children to decide what career they want when they grow up, which skills and sports they want to develop in order to be happy and how to set goals in every aspect of their lives and how to achieve them.
Setting goals and working towards them is a wonderful trait when used correctly. However, it’s a total waste of time and an obstacle to our leadership performance when it becomes as obsessive as it is now. Because as we all know, God is laughing belly-up as we speak, thinking of all the different ways we will be pushed straight out of our paths.
Many of the world’s most respected winners never expected to become so successful. Think of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates building nerdy computers in their garages, or innocent fifteen year-old girls discovered on the streets by photographers who became top models. Even those who actively pursued stardom got their break at the most unexpected moment, from the least probable friend or social gathering. The most frequently repeated phrase in interviews with famous people is: it just happened.
What would have happened if Giselle Bündchen had turned down her first modelling opportunities because she had planned to become a doctor. Or if Bill Gates had ignored his computer geek friends and their nerdy afternoons of programming in order to pursue a journalistic career instead. Fortunately, passion easily overrides the most prepared plans, and destiny, luck or divinity – whatever you believe makes the world go round – stop us in our tracks all the time.
Our intellectual minds are severely distraught by this unpredictability. The beauty of goals and plans is their linear nature: they are orderly and sequential, they can be added and subtracted, stretched out, pushed back and squeezed. Our minds love to spend time playing around with the little building blocks of our future goals.
Thinking ahead not only keeps us busy. It helps us feel we are in control of our lives. But mostly it just keeps us hidden safely away from any possible feelings of helplessness, fear or apprehension we may hold about the future and the enormity of the world around us. And so we make God laugh. Over and over again. Every Monday morning. Every first of January. And every first Monday of the new shool year.
Yet a leader who hides from himself behind plans and goals is no leader at all. He’s hiding! The very definition of leadership requires standing out in the light, in front of everyone else.
Our complex excel sheets and cash projections, our super strategic business plans and over intellectualized expectations of the future have become silly stories we tell ourselves to hold it together on a Monday morning. Or to help investors and analysts hold it together throughout the week. It’s not only God that laughs. Anybody with two eyes on their face and two feet on the ground is laughing as well.
If only we had the guts to stay in the present moment. If only we hadn’t become so scared of our own emotions rising to meet us on Monday mornings. Imagine where the world would be if all our heroes in history had hidden behind a pretty story or well-constructed plan on the day they had to step up to a new unpredictable challenge.
The key to be taken seriously by our followers is not in our minds or the strategies they can concoct, but in our hearts. This can be done by taking a deep breath when we sit at our desk in the morning and scanning ourselves for feelings, sensations, intuitions, yearnings and fears. It’s found in asking our minds to shut up for a minute: “Just give me a little space to feel myself today…”
Our hearts and their unpredictably curvy impressions, wants and passions are specifically designed to play with the uncertainty and playful dance of destiny, luck or divinity. Our hearts are the seats of our hidden wisdom. All we need to do is let go of our plans and surrender our minds…
…and let the fun begin!