Overcoming the Thing that Holds Leaders Back


Leadership begins with imagination, nothing less, nothing more, and nothing else. Leaders without imagination are followers.

Imagination is the thought of that which isn’t.

Everything that exists began in someone’s imagination. Once upon a time, before they existed, someone imagined light bulbs. Apart from imagination, we’d all be in the dark.

Don’t tell me what you know and do.
Tell me what you imagine.

The thing that holds you back isn’t lack of desire, its lack of imagination. Most don’t dare imagine who they could be.

Small imagination extends what is;
great imagination transcends it.

Roadblocks to imagination:

  1. Expectations crush imagination. Yielding to what others expect you to be crushes your imagination of yourself.
  2. Stress ends pretending.
  3. Responsibilities drain imagination. I asked a businessman when he was most himself and he said, “When I’m away.”

Igniting imagination:

  1. Build on success. Imagination finds courage after small successes. You dare think “what else” after a win.
  2. Imagine who before what. Make room for leadership that expresses who you are or life becomes fragmented, frustrating, and empty.
  3. Play. Schedule playtime. The thought of play terrifies leaders who’ve lost imagination. After all, grownups don’t pretend.
  4. Embrace silence. Quiet opens doors for imagination.

Generous imagination:

Successful leaders help others imagine who they could be. The people who change us most imagine us best.

Help others courageously imagine themselves in new ways.
Arrogance imagines for. Humility imagines with.

Generous leaders take time to imagine the future of employees, colleagues, team mates, and bosses. Selfish leaders are, on the other hand, consumed with themselves.

  1. Say, “I think you have more in you.”
  2. Explore what could be when they feel frustrated again. Repeated frustrations represent imaginations opportunity.
  3. Toss out untapped opportunities and see what gets traction.
  4. Ask, “What if.”


Imagination without courage, will, and direction eventually frustrates and ultimately defeats.

Bonus material:

How John Maxwell helped Brad Lomenick, the author of “The Catalyst Leader,” and CEO of Catalyst imagine himself differently (1:25).

Check out the great list of leadership I’s on the Leadership Freak Facebook Page. While you’re there, add leadership J’s for tomorrow’s post.

How is imagination kindled?

How can leaders help others imagine themselves in new ways?