To visualize is to see what is not there, what is not real — a dream . To visualize is, in fact, to make visual lies . Visual lies, however, have a way of coming true.

Positive Visualization for Leaders
Leaders, it is your job to see things as they should be first and then put those visions into action.
(Click to Tweet)

Every great athlete uses detailed, clear, vivid visualizations. I didn’t know it at the time but I learned valuable lessons about leadership success growing up playing golf and working with a sports psychologist. Everything he taught me about golf performance applies to anything in life such as:

  1. The more clearly defined your visions are, the better. When I visualized my playing the final hole of a golf tournament tied for the lead, I wanted to smell the grass, hear the birds, feel my feet walking between shots. I didn’t just picture two or three good shots, I pictured the entire experience. The sound of the velcro on my glove, the sweat on my forehead, the celebration after the final putt dropped, even my reaction to my opponent making an unexpected putt. I practiced how I would react to unexpected situations…and when they happened, they weren’t unexpected.
  2. The subconscious mind doesn’t understand the word “don’t.” When I say “don’t hit it left,” my mind only hears “hit it left.” When I think “don’t talk too fast,” take a guess at what happens.
  3. Every statement must be a positive statement. The counter to point #2 is to state everything in a positive manner. “Don’t hit it left” becomes “there is plenty of room right.” A good caddie will never use the word “don’t” to his player nor will a good coach. So don’t use it on yourself. Oh, the irony of that sentence.
  4. A smile really does lift the spirits and enhance visualizations. A curious thing happened one day as I was practicing with my sports psychologist. I smiled at something as I was visualizing a putt. The visualization was clearer and I instantly felt better. I began to use this every time I visualized a shot and it made a huge difference in my performance.

I have used these techniques (from part one and remembering these points here) to overcome numerous obstacles in leadership.

To deliver tough feedback, I rehearsed by visualizing exactly how the meeting would start, the look on the other person’s face, the cold of the conference room chair, the manner in which I would sit, the sound of the clock ticking. I saw myself say what I needed to say word-for-word and see his reaction. I saw myself remaining calm as he processed things and then I visualized various responses and how I would react. If he reacted in anger or defensiveness, I would picture myself reacting calmly and reminding him that the intention of the feedback is to help him. If he just shook his head in agreement or admitted fault, I picture myself thanking him for accepting the feedback and ask how I could help him. I saw each scenario play out in my mind. And I always pictured the same desired ending, with a smile, encouragement, and a handshake.

Most days now on my way home I spend the last minute or two picturing how I want my arrival to go. I believe that the arrival home is one of the most important parts of the day. I used to drag in the door, exhausted from the day’s work, and I wanted everyone to know how drained I was (it’s that self-importance thing creepy up again). Now, I picture a happy arrival. I say in a loud voice “Hello, I’m home,” and move quickly to put my things up and greet my wife and daughter with kisses. In order for this to look anything like this picture I just painted, I must rehearse it first.

Leaders, it is your job to see things as they should be first and then put those visions into action. (Click to Tweet)

And no, Peter McWilliams and I are not related.

How has positive visualization helped you as a leader? If it hasn’t, what are some ways your can immediately put it to use?

10 thoughts on “Leaders, You Are What You See, Part Two

  1. Todd Liles says:

    Matt – Thanks for sharing. I love the power of visualization! I even have an acronym I teach my team: “Be prepared to meet MAGGIE: Mindset (visualize success), Appearance, Goals, Goals, Integrity, Exploration.”

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I like that Todd. Just might steal it even 🙂

      Thank you for sharing.

      1. Todd Liles says:

        Matt – You don’t have to steal it. I give you permission to borrow it. 😉 I might borrow some of your ideas too.

      2. Matt McWilliams says:


        Feel free…that is why I write about them 🙂

  2. Joel Fortner says:

    Love the analogy. Well said here.

  3. Carol Dublin says:

    I tend to visualize the big things that happen to me – that presentation, or the big meeting – never thought about how important it is to visualize things like coming home. One good thing for me is that my two cats usually greet me (either come to me at the door or watch and wait on me to say hi to them), so I don’t have much chance to come in grumpy. That definitely sets a good tone.

    I like your suggestion to smile during the visualization. Going to try this today. I have some major things I’m trying to finish up – so on the way to work, I will picture successful completion, including the smile! thanks!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      It definitely applies to everything in life.

      Once you start doing it, it becomes second nature and easy to do “on the go.” It is hard to live without!

  4. Ed Tabara says:

    Matt, very nice post!
    I would also add that when visualizing something, you need not to WANT it to be so, but to KNOW it IS so. When you just “WANT” something to happen, negative potentials are created and there are quite big chances it will not happen. When you “KNOW” something will “BE”, well… it always “will be” (meaning an always future) because the hmmm “reality”/”universe”(?) is lagging in a way, so the “will be” will always be a future and may never become a “now”. This way when we “KNOW” it is “NOW”, we help the “reality” make our visualization real. That’s one of the reasons why some people become rich while others don’t even if they are smart. Those who become rich think as already being rich even when they are now yet. They just “KNOW” it is “NOW”.
    Hope i wasn’t too confusing hehe. Anyway, very well all this is explained in the “Reality Transerfing” series of books by Vadim Zeland. I believe at least 3 of them were translated to english.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Makes perfect sense Ed. And I like the part about ”
      you need not to WANT it to be so, but to KNOW it IS so”

      That is so true. I may not WANT to do something negative but if I KNOW it is going to happen, it will. The same is true for positive things.

      And you are right, wealth is a mindset, not a state of being.

      Love it!

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