Whose vision is it, anyway?
“There is extraordinary power in a group connected to a common vision.”
-Joseph Jaworski, author of Synchronicity
Visionary leadership is a popular model these days. It suggests that the leader needs a vision that captures the hearts and minds of people, engaging them to follow his or her far-sighted dream.
No doubt, the world has seen some visionary leaders. President Kennedy had a vision of putting a man on the moon. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream and a vision of land where people would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Steve Jobs had a vision of Apple denting the universe with “insanely great” products.
Great. If you are a JFK, an MLK, or a Steve Jobs, then go at it with your vision. If you are the founder of a firm, you can articulate a vision for your startup and attract colleagues who share that vision.
But most of us are not founders or visionary virtuosos. We need a vision to inspire our colleagues, but whose vision?
Is it the CEO’s vision? In Fortune 500 companies, the average tenure of CEOs is reported to be about 4.6 years. Does the organization get a new vision with every new CEO, just when the old one was starting to kick in? Making such dramatic changes so frequently to the fabric of the company is likely to be disruptive and frustrating for the employees.
In most cases, the role of the leader is to unearth the aspirations of the people in the organization and lead a collaborative process of synthesizing it into a shared vision That way, it’s not the leader’s vision imposed from above, which may fall on deaf ears. Rather, it’s the organization’s shared vision, created and owned by all, but with the leader playing an indispensable role in the process.
According to best-selling leadership authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner:
“What people really want to hear is not the leader’s vision … They want to hear how their dreams will come true and their hopes will be fulfilled … The very best leaders understand that their key task is inspiring a shared vision, not selling their own idiosyncratic view of the world…. most adults don’t like being told where to go and what to do. They want to feel part of the process.”
“Triple crown leaders”—those who build an excellent, ethical, and enduring organization—co-create a vision over time, unearthing it from the deep desires of the people they work with.
The CEO, or you as an organizational leader, can empower a small team of volunteers—a guiding coalition—to engage in a process of facilitation, discovery, and synthesis throughout the organization. The process requires deep listening, eliciting views from a wide cross-section of internal and external stakeholders, seeking common themes. The guiding coalition listens, discusses, debates, drafts, and redrafts in an unfolding process.
In the final drafts of the vision, the leader(s) must synthesize the disparate elements. A synthesis creatively fuses existing elements into something new. (It’s not just a summary.) If the work has been done collaboratively and well, a consensus will emerge and people will say, “Yes, that’s where we want to go.” People then buy in and commit, unleashing extraordinary power.
- Does your organization have an inspiring vision?
- Was it imposed from above, or collaboratively synthesized?
- Does it capture the aspirations and commitment of people throughout the organization?
- If you are not satisfied with your answers, why not reset your team’s vision collaboratively?
If you would like some free counsel on synthesizing an inspiring vision, contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org. We will assist the first five such requests we receive.