Frances Valintine knows a lot about change – after all, she literally works in futurism – but her journey to helming The Mind Lab and Tech Futures Lab hasn’t been without its tough moments.
Here, in an extract from her upcoming book Future You, Frances outlines how breaking away from expectation and routine is integral to living a full and successful life – it’s about taking risks, stepping off the conveyor belt, opening your heart to chance, overcoming self-doubt, pass less judgement, think originally, and lead with possibility.
What I know now in life, more than ever, is that we all need the love and support of great friends to do brave things. No one person is able to summon the strength that a team of friends or the strength of family can provide. Regardless of what we do, we all need extra-large doses of encouragement at certain times in our lives.
We’re all surrounded by people undertaking difficult tasks, from those working in the community on grassroots initiatives to those in research labs working to find cures to diseases. We should never underestimate an individual’s ability to change the world, or at least the lives of others. I know first-hand how beneficial it is to receive a reminder that what you are doing is important and valued – it can be a simple text of encouragement or an email acknowledging that you’re making a difference. I am forever grateful for all of the support I’ve received over my career. I never take this for granted. We sow what we reap and vice versa.
When was the last time you picked up the phone or sent a note to someone who is doing something you admire? Even a short word of thanks has the ability to help people move mountains. There have been many times when I’ve been on the last hurdle of a major project and a simple note of thanks has been enough to push me to the finish line.
Winston Churchill once said that courage is the first of all virtues because it is the only one that guarantees all the others. We all have the ability to plot a bold course, forge new ground or be decisive in a time of uncertainty. As the world adapts to new challenges, courage has become an indispensable attribute for effective leadership. The leaders steering their organisations and communities forward while seizing new opportunities for impact and growth are some of the most influential people of our time. Adapting quickly and stepping forward with certainty, even if internally you’re terrified of failure, can reduce anxiety and fear in others.
When you’re looking to lead with a sense of possibility, friendships and networks of supporters are a great source of encouragement. Many models of leadership fail to mention that you will sometimes have to explicitly state that a vision comes without a compass. With every destination, there are multiple paths and many may lead to dead ends. If you lead by saying that there is only one possible path to success, it can create the impression that the road to success is certain, or that the direction chosen will be the path of least resistance.
If you build a community of supporters that you keep informed with your plans, you will have a network of people who support you when things go off the rails. Success and comfort seldom come together, but having a network that understands and supports your cause will provide the safety net you need when tough days get tougher. All great causes and successful initiatives are headed by people who have a strong sense of leadership.
The first step to making bold change is to focus on the purpose and reason for your goal, and why you’re hoping to make changes. Before you lean in to the task at hand, take your team or supporters on your journey and make them aware of your biggest concerns. In my organisation, all staff meetings follow the same principle: I explain the opportunity so that everyone can see the big picture, and I talk through the timeframe and the risks, then I share my fears and aspirations.
I have grown comfortable sharing my thoughts while they’re still developing. When I have other people’s input, I’m able to see things from different angles and from different perspectives. I look back at my earlier career and I recognise I saw things in absolutes. It wasn’t until I learned the art of compromise and negotiation that I found the rewards and benefits of bringing many trusted people into the development process. I find myself welcoming the challenge of those who ask hard questions. I have a village of people I know I can rely on to stand by me, as they know why I do what I do and why it matters to me.
Self-confidence is an important attribute in great leaders, but not if it comes with the overconfidence that assumes you’re better alone. Curiosity and the desire to do things better will attract greater support than having a fixed opinion or an inflated sense of your decision-making abilities. In many of the companies I work in as a futures advisor, I see a disconnect between the executive and other staff. In every instance I believe in transparency over secrecy. If you open up your own world and share your vulnerabilities, you will be able to proactively seek opinions and the people around you will feel they can safely offer advice or put forward a suggestion.
Friends, supporters, backers and colleagues are essential to the success or failure of a project, business or movement. No man or woman can operate alone if they are to do great things. Having encouragement and a cheer team who will come to your defence is critical to your growth and development. If you’re looking for help on the road to success, never underestimate the power of the human spirit and a village of supporters.
Before I met my trusted group of friends (my ‘sister wives’) I didn’t know that I needed a group of friends who would help me be brave. I now know bravery is not a solo pursuit; it requires the general support of many and the unfaltering encouragement of a few. We need courage to follow our dreams and aspirations, particularly if we’re walking away from what we know to seek something better. Doing brave things alone is much more difficult than doing them with the emotional encouragement of others. In our families, and particularly as parents, support can be the difference between happiness or sadness, success or failure.
Uncompromising, limitless love is one of the most important human needs. I’m lucky to have my family and my friends to lift me when things are tough, and in turn I provide support when they need it. In the absence of a family of personal champions, there’s an abundance of people to meet and connect with. It’s just a matter of stepping outside of your comfort zone and being open to connection.
© Future You by Frances Valintine. Published by HarperCollins New Zealand, RRP $37.99