The future is something we rarely address in a formal way and is something for which we rarely receive guidance. But we have the power to shape our future if we are willing to find, nurture and unleash the leader within, and create the conditions and context for our own success.
What makes the task of envisioning and creating a desirable future so difficult is the gap imposed between thought and action. This gap of time and space is often filled with fear, uncertainty, worry and conflicting priorities. Too often, we invent our best excuses, turn our dreams into fantasies and abandon our aspirations.
In my book, Leader of One, I introduce a pragmatic and powerful cycle to effectively close that gap. It has been successful at both individual and organizational levels, from senior executives to undergraduate students, and from small businesses and small nonprofits to Fortune 500 companies.
The cycle has four phases: contemplation, desire, design and creation. These four phases must be taken together, applied in a holistic fashion. If carried out with discipline and commitment, this cycle will guide individuals in becoming a leader.
Contemplation: Slow down and reflect on your current situation. Take an inventory of activities you've been postponing. Think about your conception of the future. Do you believe the future is predetermined or something you can control? How you think about the future will impact how you behave in the present.
Desire: Reassess what you truly want for yourself and others. This stage helps you gauge the strength and intensity of what you want. Here, you articulate the "what" that you want to pursue. Explore the dynamics of following your passion, your purpose in life. Too often, we drift because of the constant pressures of making a living and meeting the demands placed upon us. It's easy to become derailed and suppress what we truly want to pursue.
Design: Determine how you are going to make it happen. Design a blueprint, just as an architect creates a mockup of a building before construction. With a design in place, you can take action. Asking the right questions is critical: How are your actions and behaviors contributing to creating the future that you want?
Creation: This is the most difficult stage: committing to action. You can reflect, assess and design a future for yourself time and again, but without the act of creation, you have laid waste your energies.
This four-step process is designed so that the process can begin again — a cycle of perpetual renewal. This cycle offers a way to help you transcend the present and its obstacles, and create for yourself a viable future.
The future is not a destination. Successful "leaders of one" understand that the benefits of pursuing a desired future are more valuable than arriving. That's because when we try to shape our future, we shape ourselves in the process. There are no shortcuts. The first steps are always the most difficult, but each one will bring you closer to your destination.
Find your purpose, trust your vision, and become a leader of one. If you do, your future will be mostly influenced by you, not by them, they or it. Never be afraid of failure, but always be afraid of not trying.
J. Gerald Suarez is a professor of the practice in systems thinking and design, and a fellow of the Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. He is author of "Leader of One: Shaping Your Future Through Imagination and Design."