Teaching and Leading Positively, Part 6: Emotion, Imagination, and Purpose

January 31, 2013

By: Robert E. Quinn

Originally posted on the LIFT Blog

This six-part series, “Teaching and Leading Positively,” explores the goals of teaching positive leadership: not merely to serve as an instructor conveying the theories or practices drawn for positive organizational scholarship, but to prompt lasting transformation in the way our students work and live. Serving as this kind of catalyst requires full engagement on our part. We must live from the positive leadership framework, allowing our students to learn by our example, each other’s, and their own.

I had a dream. I was driving when the car in front of me stopped unexpectedly. I jammed on my brakes and stopped one inch short of its bumper. The episode filled me with so much adrenaline that I woke up. The event was a figment of my imagination, yet it triggered a physiological response that changed my reality. I moved from the condition of sleep to the condition of wakefulness. Lying there, I marveled at the power of my brain to create images of consequence.

I thought about this as I considered a situation my daughter is in right now. She has been hosting three orphans from Latvia who do not speak English. Suddenly taking on three children at one time proved overwhelming to her and to the rest of us. She seemed to go into a deep, negative hole.

Then one day she walked in the room signing a happy song. We were stunned and asked her what happened.  She said that she and her husband sat down and asked her father’s favorite question, “What result are we trying to create?” The question led to a long discussion and a new perspective on or image of the future. With this new perspective, her fears began to dissolve.

This new perspective, or change in her imagination, had real consequences. For one, she now felt she could get through the time with her Latvian charges. For another, it changed how she interacted with those who loved and supported her the most. When she was in the negative hole, we as a family watched every word we said. When she came out of the hole, we all relaxed and began relating to her normally again.

Many discussions of teaching and leading turn to the mechanics of the process. Few focus on the emotional state of the teacher or leader. My daughter’s emotional state influenced how we related to her. Similarly, a teacher or leader’s emotional state influences others and determines the quality of energy those people return. The emotional state, therefore, matters, and it is determined by the images of the mind. My imagination in the form of a dream changed my reality. The imagination of a teacher or leader changes his or her reality.

So it’s our choice: We can accelerate the rate of learning and achievement or impede it. Begin with the question “What result do I want to create?” To achieve greatness, choose neither a mundane nor even a “normal” answer. Go for something profound. Something transformational. What will your answer be?