Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Importance of Leadership With a Vision

In today's lesson you will learn the importance of Leadership with a Vision.
This was taught to me by one of my mentors Lori Duff here at
Every Month A Million with our Daily Dose Of Good

I dug a bit deeper and added more that I have been learning here.....

In the Book of Proverbs it is said, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." This is as true in business as it is in life. Organizations whose leaders have no vision are doomed to work under the burden of mere tradition. They cannot prosper and grow because they are reduced to keeping things the way they have always been; they are guided by the saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

True leaders see things differently. They are guided by another belief more in keeping with the competitive world in which we live. They believe, "If it ain't broke, you're not looking hard enough." Realizing that there is always room for improvement, they believe that no one has ever done anything so well that it cannot be done better.

For leaders, a vision is not a dream; it is a reality that has yet to come into existence. Vision is palpable to leaders; their confidence in and dedication to vision are so strong they can devote long hours over many years to bring it into being. In this way, a vision acts as a force within, compelling a leader to action. It gives a leader purpose, and the power of the vision and the leader's devotion to it work to inspire others-- who, sensing purpose and commitment, respond.

While leaders come in every size, shape, and disposition--short, tall, neat, sloppy, young, old, male, and female---every leader I talked with shared at least one characteristic: a concern with a guiding purpose, an overarching vision. They were more than goal-directed.

To be a leader you have to lead people to a goal worth having--something that's really good and really there". That essential "something" is the vision.

A Definition

What is vision? Because it operates on many levels, vision is difficult to define simply. When we say that a leader has vision, we refer to the ability to see the present as it is and formulate a future that grows out of and improves upon the present. A leader with vision is able to see into the future without being far-sighted and remain rooted in the present without being near-sighted. We also speak of having a vision for an organization, which looks at it from a slightly different perspective. A vision is an idea of the future; it is an image, a strongly felt wish.

Vision is a tremendously powerful force in any walk of life, but in business it is essential. A vision is a target toward which a leader aims her energy and resources. The constant presence of the vision keeps a leader moving despite various forces of resistance: fear of failure; emotional hardships, such as negative responses from superiors, peers, or employees; or 'real' hardships, such as practical difficulties or problems in the industry.

Equally important, a vision, when shared by employees, can keep an entire company moving forward in the face of difficulties, enabling and inspiring leaders and employees alike. Moving toward the same goal, individuals work together rather than as disconnected people brought together because of having been hired coincidentally by the same organization. It can turn the stereotypical corporate hierarchy into a well-organized and harmonious matrix working together toward a common goal.

Vision refers to the force within a leader that spreads like wildfire when properly communicated to others. Vision refers to an image of the future that can be discussed and perfected by those who have invested in it. Vision is also the glue that binds individuals into a group with a common goal. This multiplicity of meanings does not weaken or obscure the concept; rather, it demonstrates how essential vision is to the success of a leader and to an organization.

Vision Adds Meaning to Corporate Life

When employees understand a leader's vision, they understand what the organization is trying to accomplish and what it stands for. Each employee can see what the future holds as a rational extension of the present. In addition, meaning is conveyed to each department, reaffirming that what individual departments contribute is crucial to organizational success. The vision must be logical, deductive, and plausible; at the same time it must be mind-stretching, creative, and able to capture the imaginations of individual contributors.

The role of a leader is not just to explain and clarify. Leaders "create meaning for people" by amassing large amounts of information, making sense of it, integrating it into a meaningful vision of the future, and communicating that vision so people want to participate in its realization. In this sense, visions have the power to lift employees out of the monotony of the daily work world and put them into a new world full of opportunity and challenge.

Visions excite people by appealing to their emotions. A vision is "something to rally around, a glue pulling the organization together". Because to some employees visions might seem almost impossible to meet, it is the leader's responsibility to bolster their courage with understanding. Experienced leaders do this so naturally that people do not even realize how courageous they are; their only concern is to do whatever is needed in pursuit of the vision. This is why leaders are so critical to the success of an organization. They have the ability to see through all the confusion in the workplace and focus on what matters. A vision helps leaders keep the frustrations of the workplace in perspective, enabling them to live with uncertainty in the short term because they can visualize accomplishment in the long term. They can then extend this ability throughout the organization.

Although vision guides a company in a particular direction, leaders do not typically produce specific "plans" for making a vision reality. They usually leave the more detailed planning to managers. However, "unless the leader has a sense of where the whole enterprise is going and must go, it is not possible to delegate... the other functions". It is as dangerous to leave others adrift by being too general as it is to cage them in by being too precise.

"Typically, a vision is specific enough to provide real guidance to people, yet vague enough to encourage initiative and to remain relevant under a variety of conditions".

Employee Buy-in and Commitment

To be effective, leaders cannot force their vision upon the organization. Imposing it will, in all likelihood, elicit rejection temporarily and, as a result, waste time and money. Additionally, this approach leads to frustration and anger, which can easily result in unnecessary failure. Under an autocratic leader, imposing a vision on the organization results in compliance rather than commitment, which is required for the long-term success of a vision. Ideally, a leader shares that vision with people in the organization. As employees come to comprehend the vision, they offer their commitment.

Having committed to a vision, organizational members begin to participate in shaping it, fashioning it to reflect their own personal visions-- pictures or images they have in their hearts and minds about their futures and their contributions to the organization. At this point, the leader's vision becomes a shared one, after which people in the organization become even more committed. Shared vision creates a commonality of interests that enables people to see meaning and coherence in the diverse activities of the typical workday. Furthermore, a shared vision causes people to focus on the future and what it holds-- not simply because they must, but because they want to.

The realization of a shared vision results in the "alignment of the individual energies" of all who take part. Realizing what an organization can achieve can generate a "unique rash of power," a level of energy high above what is considered normal that can be sustained for a relatively long period.
Possibly the most important variables contributing to a leader's success in implementing a vision is his level of commitment to it and the level of commitment it can inspire in employees. A leader who is wholly committed to a vision will find it much easier to motivate people and direct their energy toward making that vision reality.

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure prevents many otherwise capable people from pursuing their visions. Leaders must overcome their reluctance to risk falling on their face if they hope to succeed. Fear of failure is natural. True leaders, however, do not allow it to paralyze them and prevent them from pursuing their vision.

It does not matter not how many times you try and fail. Everybody fails. What matters is your ability to try again. A leader simply must expect and deal with failure because it is such a fundamental part of the learning process. Everybody fails while learning to master something. It is an unavoidable and essential part of a process that leads to success.

Consider this example: major league baseball. In the major leagues, if a player hits .300 he is a very good hitter. If he hits around .320 or .330, he is among the best in the league. A player who has a. 350 batting average is considered excellent. What this average actually means is that 65 percent of the time he either did not reach base, or he reached base as a result of an error. In major league baseball, a player who fails to get a hit 65 percent of the time is heading for the Hall of Fame. Interestingly, Babe Ruth is known as a great home run hitter. He was also a leader in strikeouts. Leaders must learn to deal with failure; they must master this experience. If they cannot cope with failure, they cannot lead.

Albert Einstein, who had great vision, was a leader in the scientific community. His theories changed the way we see the universe. But when once asked how many ideas he had in his lifetime, his answer was two. (Einstein considered ideas to be only those thoughts nobody had ever thought of before.)

A person can have an abundance of ideas, but success depends on what she does with these ideas, not on merely having them. Chances are that an idea believed to be original has already been conceived by somebody who has failed to do anything with it. It only takes one good idea to be a stunning success. Einstein is proof of this. The secret is to build on that idea. The fear of failure prevents many talented people from mentioning their ideas to others or from following through completely on them. What a shame! Because of the fear of failure, we deprive ourselves and others of so many benefits.

Nevertheless, many people believe that the key to success is to avoid failure. They stay with things they know, seldom trying anything new. These people fail because the surest way to fail in the long term is to continue doing what you did yesterday, to mindlessly follow proven tradition. Things are changing, and times are changing. If we do not change along with them, we will not succeed.

The willingness to confront and deal with failure is an important attribute of a leader. How many times should a leader try and fail before deciding it is time to quit. One? Two? Three? When Thomas Edison was working on the electric light bulb, he had to deal with much failure. He tried thousands of filaments before he found the one that worked. He did not quit after the first, 500th, or 1,000th try. He believed in his vision, and he wanted to succeed more than anything else. He dealt with his own daily failures and kept his eye on the long-term success. Today we all benefit because Thomas Edison did not choose to give up.

Challenging the Status Quo

Leaders must make certain their people do not give up, that they continue to strive for success. It is natural for people to quit; organizational pressures keep many people from trying out new ideas. John D. Rockefeller III wrote in The Second American Revolution, "An organization is a system, with a logic of its own, and all the weight of tradition and inertia. The deck is stacked in favor of the tried and proven way of doing things and against taking risks and striking out in new directions." How true!

The natural state of an organization is conservative, to maintain the status quo. Many people in firms that have been around a long time believe their primary responsibility is to protect the status quo. Leaders must learn to deal with these obstacles in the path of success and to protect those who question the way things are done. I believe that "divine discontent with the status quo" is an essential quality of a leader. People who have leadership talent have "a real fire in their belly... a fire that has to do with having an effect on the world." You can tell when leaders have been in a firm because they leave their mark and, as a result, affect the destinies of many others.

Ridicule: A Technique Used to Make Leaders Quit

When employees in most organizations encounter a person with a vision that is significantly different from the status quo, it is common for them to resist the suggested changes and to put obstacles in the way of success. Their rationale is easily understood. Change means work and exertion for them. By preventing change, they save time and energy in the short term. But in the long run, their strategy is dangerous.

If the leader refuses to quit, employees turn to ridicule in hopes that the pressure will be sufficient to prevent the leader from moving forward. Leaders must learn to deal with this. They must understand that great leaders before them faced ridicule and prevailed over it. Marconi probably encountered a tremendous amount of ridicule as he sought support for the wireless radio. Imagine him trying to sell his idea to a group of would-be investors. Marconi had to convince a room full of bankers that his invention was capable of capturing "little waves" out of the air that could not be seen and converting them to sound that would come from a little box. A fair number of them must have thought he was crazy.

It is natural for some people to exhibit disbelief when unusual ideas are presented to them. It is also natural for them to ridicule the people who present those ideas.

When You Succeed, They Say You Are Lucky

Suppose a leader develops a vision to which she is committed, shares it with people, accepts failure, deals with ridicule, and after working tirelessly for many years actually turns that vision into a reality. It is now time to reap the rewards and hear praise for an amazing accomplishment, right? Wrong. In all likelihood, what she will hear is, "Oh, you were just lucky"--meaning, of course, "If it wasn't just plain dumb luck, I would have done it myself." In this situation, a leader should find comfort in the words of Emerson: "Shallow men believe in luck, wise and strong men in cause and effect."

Luck cannot explain accomplishment. Winning the state lottery may seem like a matter of luck, but you have to buy a lottery ticket to win. Ara Parseghian, football coach at Notre Dame several years ago, led his team to beat the University of Alabama for the national championship two years in a row. Alabama was favored to win both times. Both years, Alabama took an early lead and held it until the end of the game. Both years, Notre Dame came back in the closing seconds of the game and won. When a reporter asked Parseghian after the second victory about "the luck of the Irish," he is reported to have said, "If by luck you mean the place where preparation meets opportunity, then we were lucky."

In this world, there is an abundance of opportunity for everyone. Parseghian knew that the Alabama football team was not infallible and that it would give his team opportunities to win. If his team prepared well and was ready for the game, it could take advantage of those opportunities. It took hard work and practice to be able to see and take advantage of the openings provided.
Preparation met opportunity.

Communicating Vision

A leader must communicate his vision to others for it to become a shared vision. To accomplish this, leaders should act in a manner consistent with the vision in everything they do. They must set a personal example; they cannot afford to send mixed signals by saying one thing and doing another.

The first step in communicating a vision to a group is to stress its importance so that people will take an interest in it. If they believe the vision is important and worthwhile, many of them will want be involved with it, even if they do not understand all the details. Most people will cooperate and follow the leader with only a vague idea of what their participation, contribution, and reward might be, if the leader's vision excites them.

Communication that motivates people to act tends to focus on the core values and beliefs that support the vision. Accurately communicating these values and beliefs simplifies implementation because it conveys simple images or words that make the vision easier to remember. In addition, repeating simple words and symbols communicates the message without clogging already overused communication channels. Written communication can be used in a similar manner to reinforce the vision by reporting progress for everyone to see, and progress toward achieving goals keeps peoples' spirits up and helps convince them they can do it.

Going From Communication to Commitment

After a vision has been explained simply and directly, people must decide whether they want to be a part of it. If they don't, they cannot be forced to produce quality results at competitive prices over the long term. They can be forced to do things in the short term, but they will abandon them as quickly as they figure out how to come out from under the strong arm of a leader who has not earned their commitment.

The day has almost passed when autocratic leaders can succeed over the long term. Strong-armed leaders typically do not last long; the cost of using this approach is too high in terms of the inferior quality output resulting from poor quality effort, lost employee loyalty and support, and money. Moreover, forcing people to do things they do not want to do requires a great deal of energy over the long term--more energy than most people can expend on a sustained basis.

Over the long term, most people are not motivated by being pushed. They are motivated by the desire to satisfy their own very basic human needs: those for achievement, belonging, recognition, self-esteem, control over their lives, and the sense of having lived up to their ideals. To be successful, leaders must connect with these human needs and let their people become excited about a vision. Further, they must involve people in deciding how to achieve the vision, or at least to achieve the part of it that is most relevant to them. Their involvement must be real, and the rewards and recognition they receive must be real as well.

To win continued support from a group, leaders must be willing to share their personal views, and to listen carefully to the group's ideas. Ultimately, leaders must be willing to assume a vulnerable position and ask a difficult question:
"Will you follow me?" In reality, they are asking another question: "Is this vision worthy of your commitment?" Being vulnerable in this manner is difficult for many people who have grown up during a time when employees were expected to comply with the leader's orders and not ask too many questions.

Although a leader is responsible for introducing the vision to the group, people want and need to become personally involved with the vision. As we have said before, they cannot do this unless it reflects, to some extent, their own personal visions. It is critical for leaders to keep their minds open to suggestions and ideas that can improve the vision. Too often leaders present their visions to employees as cast in concrete, sending the subtle (or not so subtle) message that there is no room for compromise. As a result, the employees either reject the vision or simply go through the motions of supporting it. In either case, it is doubtful the vision will ever become reality.

Introducing the word "compromise" may surprise many people because they have been led to believe that once the leader is committed to the vision, she cannot afford to be flexible. Although it is true that the leader's commitment to the vision must be strong and unwavering, it is also true that she is incapable of predicting in advance precisely what the future holds. As the leader and the group move together toward making the vision a reality, they both learn more about their vision, and they have opportunities to improve upon it. Compromise as the vision unfolds should not be interpreted negatively. The leader's willingness to accept suggestions that result in some change in the vision will benefit the leader and improve both the quality of the vision and the intensity of the employees' commitment to it.

Stated another way, the development of a vision is an evolutionary process. At any one point there will be a particular image of the future that is predominant, but that image will evolve. A vision should be constantly examined and modified to reflect important changes in the environment and ensure continued support and enthusiasm from everyone involved.

As people's commitment to the vision grows, it becomes more real to them; they will find it easier to dedicate the time and energy necessary to make the vision a reality. Those who have expertise in a particular field should be encouraged to use their knowledge to improve parts of the vision that are related to their specialty. The details, missing steps, and concerns that confront the leader's visionary goals. When leaders solicit input, they discover the knowledge, interest, and evident parameters of support they can expect from others." A leader should expect that although parts of the vision may undergo alteration, its essence will remain intact.

If a leader cannot see the value in compromises and is too inflexible to accept them, the vision will never achieve its full potential. When more people come to share a vision, the vision becomes more real in the sense of a mental reality that people can truly imagine achieving. They [the leaders] now have partners, co-creators; the vision no longer rests on their shoulders alone."

Empowering People to Do Their Jobs

Communicating the vision accurately and fully has the added advantage of creating the conditions under which employees can be empowered to do their jobs. The term "empowered" is used frequently today; unfortunately, many people using the term do not really understand what it means. Some who are familiar with management literature interpret empowerment to mean delegation of authority. The strict literalists will be quick to point out that a manager can delegate authority, but not responsibility. To them, empowerment is a formal (almost legalistic) passing down of a task from one level in the organization to another. Delegation is not empowerment, but empowerment does require good delegation.

Empowerment means giving employees jobs to do and the freedom they need to be creative while doing them. It means allowing employees to try new ideas, even ones that have never been considered or that have been previously rejected. It means allowing them to experiment and fail on occasion without fear of punishment.

Having said this, we must point out that leaders should avoid taking big risks without carefully considering the consequences. They must exercise judgment; as a general rule, they should establish an understanding with employees about the risks they are willing to take in the experimentation process. As we said earlier, experimentation is essential, so leaders must not be so restrictive that their employees fail to try new ideas. Empowerment means giving employees more than just the authority to do the job.

Leaders are not magicians, and they do not simply predict future events. They are strategic thinkers who are willing to take risks. Their actions, together with the actions of those who follow them, determine what the future will be. The point is, leaders do not create something out of nothing. They look at what they know to exist and search for relationships, the way things are meant to fit together. Once they find the connections, they share them with other people and work with them to bring about desired changes.

Leaders must maintain a balance between a clear understanding of the present and a clear focus on the future. Senge calls this balance "creative tension" and maintains that "an accurate picture of current reality is just as important as a compelling picture of a desired future."

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