Sunday, August 16, 2015

When Vision Isn't Enough

There is often a great deal of emphasis on establishing a vision when beginning the change process and rightfully so. Great leaders understand the importance of a shared vision and the need to articulate lofty goals and resulting outcomes. They are forward-thinking, which turns out to be a highly admirable trait right up there with honesty, as described by James M. Kouzes and Barry Posner. The authors explain that in order to effectively lead change, a shared vision has to be created.
"The only visions that take hold are shared visions—and you will create them only when you listen very, very closely to others, appreciate their hopes, and attend to their needs. The best leaders are able to bring their people into the future because they engage in the oldest form of research: They observe the human condition."
John Ryan elaborated on the topic and how leadership success always starts with a vision. He writes:
"Great leaders give real thought to the values, ideas and activities they’re most passionate about–and those are the things they pursue, rather than money or prestige or options forced on them by someone else. The visions these leaders have can be–and, in fact, should be–challenging to put into action. They realize them only by setting realistic, demanding goals and then going after them relentlessly, with the help of other talented men and women who are equally committed and engaged."
In his article, he states that compelling visions can truly change the world. But staying invested in them can be extremely difficult when hard times arrive. The real work and testament to great leadership is moving past the visioning process by developing a strategic plan to turn vision into reality.  I have been a part of, or witnessed, one too many visioning exercises that focused on the formation of a mission statement.  What resulted, for the most part, was a hollow vision that was not supported by action.  Many, including myself, would consider this a waste of time.  I would even go as far as to say that getting people in a room for countless hours to develop a paragraph of jargon-filled sentences is more indicative of a boss as opposed to a leader.  Mission statements and just a vision do not lead to sustainable change. Forward-thinking visionaries who persistently strive to implement a vision through actions do.

Whereas developing a shared vision is an attribute linked to all great leaders, the best leaders ensure that a strategic plan is developed and then meticulously implemented.  A vision has to result in a plan, which provides a focus for the change initiative.  The plan then has to be monitored and evaluated if the desired outcome is a sustainable change that leads to transformation.  The real work comes after a vision has been established.  David Taylor outlines ten crucial elements to successfully move from vision to actionable change:

  1. Make it a priority – make innovation a priority for the organization
  2. Strategize strategic success – understand how the vision aligns with the strategic goals of the organization
  3. Communicate a new reality – communicate to the organization what achieving the vision will mean
  4. Inspire the team – the leaders must inspire the organization to move from where they are to the promise that the vision brings
  5. Embrace the vision – the vision should be discussed and supported at all levels of the organization
  6. Be loud and proud – speak about the new changes whenever possible
  7. Spread the word – communicate the vision at every opportunity
  8. Own it and live it – leaders must live the vision and not just pay lip service to it
  9. Drive the train, don’t watch the parade – leaders must get their hands dirty and get involved with the details. 
  10. Don’t just delegate everything

Great leaders are never satisfied by just developing a shared vision. They work tirelessly to model expectations during the planning and implementation phases of the change process while empowering others to embrace change. It is easy to talk the talk. Great leaders walk the walk while helping others experience greatness and success along the way.  Don't settle for anyone else's vision or even your own if it is not persistently put into action.  Great visions can, and will, lead to the development of a legacy.  Your legacy will be defined by how well you positively impact the lives of others. 

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