Lisa R. Arcemont
To Lead, Create a Shared Vision
Every organization has a destiny: a deep purpose that expresses the organization’s reason for existence. Visions are often times tied to the original vision of the organization, and even provide a tool for universal communication. Many members of the organization have a collective sense of their underlying purpose – but in day-to-day operations those visions are often unclear or indistinct. To become more aware of an organization’s vision, one must ask the members and learn to listen for their answers (Senge, 1990).
According to Senge (1990), defining an organization’s vision has it benefits: (1) to have a tool for aligning members of the organization and to increase their motivation to cooperate, (2) to attract customers, particular the growing share of environmentally or ethically conscious consumers, and (3) to ease the pain of stakeholders who have a vested interest in the organization’s survival and future existence.
Kouzes and Posner (2009, January) further cite the importance of forward-looking leaders. “Being forward-looking—envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view of the future—is the attribute that most distinguishes leaders from non-leaders.” Shared vision establishes a focus on mutual purpose, and encourages a sense of commitment in a group or organization by developing shared images of the future they seek to create, and the principles and guiding practices by which they hope to get there.
When surveying tens of thousands of working people around the world, Kouzes and Posner asked, “What do you look for and admire in a leader (defined as someone whose direction you would willingly follow)? What do you look for and admire in a colleague (defined as someone you’d like to have on your team)?” The number one characteristic of a leader—honesty—was also the top-ranking attribute of a good colleague. But the second-highest requirement of a leader, that he or she be forward-looking, with 72% wanting it in a leader and just 27% of respondents selected it as something they want in a colleague.
So how do new leaders develop this forward-looking capacity? Kouzes and Posner suggest to first carve out time from urgent but endless operational matters. Second, forward-looking leaders must communicate an image of the future that draws others in – that speaks to what other see and feel. Communicating a shared vision with your team should include an explanation of how you got to your vision. Remember to incorporate other team members in creating the goals and vision so that you all get to the end vision together.
As counterintuitive as it might seem, then, the best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present. The only visions that take hold are shared visions—and you will create them only when you listen very, very closely to others, appreciate their hopes, and attend to their needs. The best leaders are able to bring their people into the future because they engage in the oldest form of research: They observe the human condition.
For information on tools that can help develop visions in different settings, Click here. They can be applied by individuals, by a confined group of decision makers, or they can be adapted to serve as a base for a company-wide co-creation process. The Tool Book offers a series of exercises which help you to analyze and visualize structures of your organization.