Recently I came across a 2009 Harvard Business Review article written by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner and entitled To Lead, Create a Shared Vision (you can see a preview here). What struck me most about the article was a single sentence:
"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."
What the authors are talking about here, as the title of the piece implies, is shared vision. But what is shared vision, really? First, let's talk about what it's not.
Shared vision is not about trust. It's not about becoming some all-singing, all-dancing, all-powerful wizard who can see what others can't and convince them to follow despite their blindness (not that an approach like that can't work spectacularly, but it works only when the stars are aligned just so).
What shared vision is about -- at least for us mortals -- is teamwork and shared creation. Yes, a leader is charged with hopping into a kind of mental DeLorean DMC-12, setting the dial for a decade down the road, and hitting the gas until they reach that magic 88 mph. But once that leader gets back from the future, it's time to work on that vision with the rest of the team -- to refine, reshape, and most importantly, reauthor that vision.
If we as leaders want to connect with our people deeply in the present so as to lead them to future change, we have to help them make our vision their own. And to do that, we have to enlist them in the creation of a shared vision with our vision at its heart. Together, we need to create a vision that is personal for every person involved. To do any less is to risk creating the kind of half-hearted, half-realized change that turns the original Technicolor vision to mud.
So, how does an effective leader work with a team to author a shared vision? First, share your vision. Rough or polished, share it with the team members you work with every day.
Next, solicit honest feedback and input. Leverage the latent creative potential of your team and get some perspective.
Then, create a new, jointly authored vision for the future.
But don't stop there. Once you've worked to author a vision with your immediate team, have them follow the same process with theirs. In turn, have that team work out a shared vision with its own teams. And so on, even including key suppliers and others outside the enterprise, if that makes sense in your situation.
Finally, take a look at what you've got. It may be a bit messy and rough around the edges -- committee work can be like that. But it's something everyone in the organization can get behind, because everyone's been an integral part in creating it. And it's most likely a tighter and more relevant vision because of it.
So polish it up. Tweak it. Send it out for a final round of input. And then, with all eyes open and on the destination you chose as an organization, get going.