It's not what the Vision IS, it's what the Vision Does
Wouldn't it be nice if the path to the future was right in front of us and our task as leaders was simply to recognize it and go with it? And what if this path was free of potholes, detours, washouts, steep inclines, declines, and detours? Sounds appealing, doesn't it? Truth is, the path to the future is quite the opposite. In addition to the opportunity, the future has its fair share of uncertainty, risk, and challenge that can make leading others toward it very challenging.
What do the best leaders do to mobilize and energize others to get out of bed each day and work toward an uncertain, yet (hopefully) exciting future? According to Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, co-authors of The Leadership Challenge, … “leaders envision the future by imaging exciting and ennobling possibilities. They dream of what might be, and they passionately believe that they can make a positive difference.” What's more is the best leaders get others on board by appealing to shared aspirations. They breathe life into compelling images of the future by getting others to “see” how their own dreams can be realized.
So how does your behavior, or you own leader's behavior stack up? Is it okay, or does it fall a little short?
Crisis of the Urgent
The urgent, pressing, get it done now” mandate that drives many organizations is clearly a by-product of a highly competitive, global marketplace. While the need to deliver daily results reliably is here to stay, some leaders can become so focused on results that they forget about the aspirations of their team members and how an inspiring “view” of a shared future can bring people together, create synergy, and align everyone's interests. Employees want (and need) to know the meaning of their work, how it benefits customers, the team, and the organization. And they want to know they are helping their organization move closer to the vision and mission they share and value and that their work is noticed and really counts.
Vision, Commitment, and Engagement
Much has been written about employee engagement, and the factors that influence it vary depending on which research you've read or which guru you follow. One aspect of employee engagement that is common to most definitions is the importance of shared visioning. In The Leadership Challenge, Inspiring a Shared Vision is a key practice leaders must be good at if they want to fully engage their employees. Notice the three essential words in this particular leadership practice:
1. Inspire, is about appealing to a team member's “head and heart” so that they willingly commit, engage, and entice others to do the same.
2. Shared, is less about telling, and is more about earning the commitment of employees. They won't “buy in” or work toward the vision unless they can “see” it and “see themselves” in it.
3. Vision, is a perspective or view of the future that is compelling, exciting, and possible
Inspiring a Shared Vision is both an art and a science. While simple in design, doing it well requires reflection, planning, and follow-through. Anchoring daily work in some sort of “bigger picture” is what “gets us out of bed in the morning”, and enables our commitment to the organizations we serve. With practice, leaders can manage daily processes and results while also “stoking the fire” of an inspirational view of tomorrow.