Leadership is about setting a direction
It’s about creating a vision, empowering and inspiring people to want to achieve the vision and enabling them to do so with energy and speed through an effective strategy. In its most basic sense, leadership is about mobilizing a group of people to jump into a better future.
—John P. Kotter
We all possess the ability to create pictures in our minds, and these images are extremely powerful. Look at any invention that has changed the world and you are looking at the physical manifestation of someone’s mental image from the past.
Vision is such a powerful tool that has shaped great civilisations, built industries and produced awe-inspiring art. Often these accomplishments come as part of a paradigm shift, where a leader has looked at an everyday problem differently, the most notable innovations have come from a leader seeing a problem and conceiving a new way to create value.
Bill Allen saw a world where people would fly everywhere in large passenger jets. While he was president of Boeing, he made the famous decision in 1952 to “bet the company”, when he authorized construction of the Boeing 367-80 .
Gates and Allen shared a vision from the first days of Microsoft, Gates wrote “Early on, Paul Allen and I set the goal of a computer on every desk and in every home. It was a bold idea and a lot of people thought we were out of our minds to imagine it was possible.”
Jony Ive and Steve Jobs saw the future of mobile devices. For years, Jobs and Ive created hit products together, including the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
Joel Barker was the first author to popularise the concept of paradigm shifts for the corporate world. He began his work in 1975 after spending a year working with visionary thinkers in both North America and Europe. He discovered that the concept of paradigms, models of how we perceive the world around us, could be used to explain a revolutionary change in all areas of human endeavour.
The future is the play-ground of leaders who are fixated on creating new value within the work they lead. Barker warns leaders, you can and should shape your future; because if you don’t,someone else surely will, and he goes on to argue, no one will thank you for taking care of the present if you have neglected the future.
In 1980, in addition to his work on paradigms, he began to focus on a second crucial component for organisations and individuals: the importance of vision. His work shows that understanding what constrains our thinking, i.e. break out of our paradigm for a given business process or model, can be a catalyst for discovering the future.
Visionary leaders dare to take a journey into the future and build a complete picture of what they want to create. Think about the world Bill Allen lived in back in 1952, there was no airline business, transoceanic meant ships, not planes, consider the challenge he faced not just thinking up the future but convincing others he was right to bet the company. Leaders who can do this apply a “back-to-the-future” method to planning and goal setting. This kind of thinking allows leaders to envision a future that is not constrained by what is possible today. They have the discipline to work backwards, imaging each step that must have been taken to allow the future state to exist.
Sharing a vision enables leaders to help people set aside short-term differences. Vision gives leaders a platform to facilitate teams to solve problems and negotiate seemly conflicting priorities. Leaders understand that the vanity of small differences can derail plans and introduce silo mentality, creating turf wars and other such behaviour that weakens an organisation. For this reason, great leaders become masters at building collaborating teams. They build affinity and trust which supports collaboration and the commitment to solve problems.
What changes when the vision is clear and understood?
Great leaders know the way to harness the power of an engaged workforce is to give them a purpose and a vision. People want to be proud of the work they do, and they want to feel like they are making a difference, whether that is getting the news out, helping customers protect their assets, developing life-saving drugs or building an App that makes people laugh; people want to be part of something bigger than them.
Clarity and understanding empowers everyone to determine how they can contribute to its achievement. It is this connection that gives people the opportunity to become engaged. When they can track their work back to the vision, the big idea, they feel pride and this inspires them to outperform expectations and look for innovation.
Building a vision for you and your team is not just a nice-to-have, it is a success imperative that makes hard business sense. Research has proved that there is a direct correlation between having a published vision and higher levels of engagement which has been shown to improve operating income and overall company value.
Believe in what you see
Building a platform for positive change requires faith in your beliefs, and the discipline to create a detailed story with numerous hooks that allow your stakeholders, team members and investors to become attached and invested in the future you see.
Creating a Vision Panel© enables a team to build a meaningful narrative, and the use of both visuals and text helps to make it more memorable. While examples such as Jobs, Ive, or Gates are outliers, who had this ability as a natural facility, vision building is a teachable skill. Everyone has the capability to work through our Vision Panel© Process, we have seen hundreds of managers and teams create a compelling vision that has gone on to inspire thousands of employees.
What happens when there is no vision to guide and engage?
Many symptoms appear, but they all reside under one umbrella term – CONFUSION – when there is no declared vision of the future people feel confused. It usually begins with grumbling discomfort, people generally complain, no one seems to know what is expected, and priorities change often. Before long people feel unconnected to the business; essentially, they end up just doing their job, picking up a pay-cheque and not delivering their full potential. Senior managers often describe this as a lack of alignment and engagement. It has been proven that lack of engagement makes organisations slow and unresponsive, incapable of nimble actions, which translates into low productivity and low performance.