Can you imagine and see a time, when you drive down the road on a clear beautiful afternoon with your family? As you travel further, the weather begins to change and the sky darkens. You can feel and see and hear the difference. Your visibility worsens and deep, penetrating fog sets in. You slow down, uncertain about what is ahead. Could there be a car in front of you, or a cliff? Would you have time to react? It’s a scary feeling, right? A team without a clear vision for where they are going reacts in much the same way. They may slow down, feel anxious, or seek ways to get out of the situation. This is the reason that it is critical to inspire a shared vision for those you would lead. And yet, as critical as inspiring a shared vision is to a team’s performance, it is also the leadership practice that most leaders struggle with (Kouzes & Posner, 2006). We often study prolific leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Steve Jobs and yet very little time is spent on how their vision came into existence. I submit that inspiring a shared vision is a craft that any craftsman can create with the right perspective.
Challenge the Status Quo
A colleague of mine, often reminds me that different isn’t always better, but better is always different. “You find vision by reaching for any available reason to change, grow, and improve(Clark, 1997).” Kouzes and Posner noted in their research that challenging the process is one of the five practices of exemplary leaders (Kouzes & Posner, 2007). It takes courage to challenge the status quo, because there are frequently vested interests that seek to maintain a business as usual approach.
“Leaders have to enlist others in a common vision (Kouzes & Posner, 2007).” For others to want to share in the vision and want to be inspired, the vision must be both exciting and possible.
Aspire to the Greatest Good
There is always a greater good. The greater good is that which serves the larger group and is inherently connected to a vision. A leader sits between his team and the greater good and has the role of aligning the aspirations of each individual to the greater good. To do that, a leader must navigate between the many levels of good and the aspirations of the team members. The greater the good, the more inspiring the vision is. For example, contrast the success of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition with that of the original show, Extreme Makeover. The original show focused on helping an individual with their physical appearance, whereas the Home Edition focuses on helping an entire family reestablish their lives. Which is still on the air?
The Language of Vision
In one sense, a vision can be described as an experience. How can you help people have a shared experience? The language of a vision will differ based on the representation systems of the team members. Some may be more apt to see a visual representation, while others will want to hear what the future will be like for them personally, and yet other may want to study the rationale behind the vision. You must understand your team and their language of value to help them experience the vision together.
Using the Timeline
Each of us has a timeline that extends far back to our first experiences and as far into the future as we wish to look. “When we gaze first into our past, we elongate our future (Kouzes & Posner, 2007).” By helping the team to first look to the past, we gain the value of perspective and their experiences.
Goal Setting is the Roadmap
As we have our teams envision the future timeline and see the achievement of the vision, key questions can set be used to create specific goals that measure both progress and results. As we move down the timeline, how will we know that progress is being made? What will it feel like and be like? What will be different? These clarifying questions can help solidify the definition of success and form those definitions into specific goals. We can then lay the goals across the timeline to form a roadmap.
“Getting people to accomplish something is much easier if they have the inspiration to do so (Clark, 1997).” Your passion is contagious. Your passion will tell your team that their effort will make a difference.
The ability to inspire a shared vision is within each of us. Like anything else, it is a skill to be honed through practice and use. Thomas Edison once famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration (“Edison Lecture Series,” 2010).” Inspiring a shared vision is about getting the inspiration right, so the perspiration creates the right results.
Clark, Don. (1997, 4/20/2010). Leading and Leadership Retrieved 3/19/2011, 2011, from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leadled.html
Edison Lecture Series. (2010). Retrieved 3/24/2011, 2011, from http://www.edisonlectureseries.org/
Kouzes, James M., & Posner, Barry Z. (2006). It’s Not Just the Leader’s Vision. In Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith & Leader to Leader Institute. (Eds.), The leader of the future 2 : visions, strategies, and practices for the new era (1st ed., pp. 207-212). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kouzes, James M., & Posner, Barry Z. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.