By Chris Chittenden
“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet.”
… Theodore M. Hesburgh (b.1917) clergy, university administrator
Leadership can be defined as taking others into a future they would not go by themselves. One key, if not the key, aspect of this approach to leadership lies in the leader having a vision of that future – a “leadership vision”. Most organisations have a vision of some sort. It is the norm in the corporate world. Most of these visions represent an image of the organisation’s future, yet these visions may not represent an effective “leadership vision”. When creating a “leadership vision”, it can be useful to ask the question, “How well does this vision establish a vehicle for effective leadership?”
From a leadership perspective, an effective “leadership vision” encapsulates four things. Firstly it is created with a view to those within the organisation. Many visions are created with a different or varied audience in mind, such as shareholders, customers and the market place. Although it is important to create an image and direction to those and other stakeholders, from a leadership perspective a vision has to connect those within the organisation to a future. People within an organisation generally have a different context for the future than those outside the organisation. Generally they are not so interested in the perfect image or future most organisations seek to present to the world. Profit margins and share price play little role in their day to day life and certainly do not seem to motivate them to action, unless of course they have a significant shareholding. They are more in touch with what the organisation does on a day to day basis and so an effective leadership vision speaks to that. In other words, an effective “leadership vision” connects the individuals within an organisation to a future to which they can relate.
Secondly, an effective leadership vision allows the leader to connect others to a realisable future. If the vision seems unrealistic or unattainable, people will not connect to it. The work of Human Synergistics and others has clearly established that a stronger drive for achievement is created when people feel they can attain a specific outcome. Despite the temptation of perfection, ideal outcomes can actually be demotivating as the outcomes seem unattainable and people give up more easily.
Thirdly, an effective “leadership vision” is one where the organisation has great influence over the realisation of the vision. Visions have to be attainable as a direct result of organisational actions and so those visions that create a comparison to others, such as “We will be the best …” do not fit this view and establish a competitive focus rather than an achievement focus. Although it is important to be aware of what others in the market place are doing, an organisation cannot directly influence what their competitors do. As a result, other organisations, which may have greater resources and established market share may continue to be the best despite an organisation optimising its own resources and making marked progress.
Finally, an effective “leadership vision” is succinct enough to be used as a context in many everyday conversations. A “leadership vision’ is one that is simple and often repeated as a context for action. The leader can always be asking themselves and others, “How does this help us establish our vision?” In doing so, they are continually bringing the vision to life for themselves and those around them.
Do you have a vision for yourself and the group you lead? Does it help you lead each day or merely play a bit role? Traditionally, the start of a new year is a time for new resolutions – visions of something new. Maybe now is the time to create a new vision for yourself as a leader.
© 2007 Chris Chittenden