This is one of the 12 Things I Believe. Visioning what you want to achieve is an important skill for a leader and one that will serve you well in your career.
I thought I would follow-up my last post about visioning, entitled The Wisdom of The Mountain with a quick story about the processionary caterpillar. They move through trees in a long procession, one leading all the others who follow with eyes half-closed and each with their head fitted against the rear of the caterpillar right in front of them.
Professor Jean-Henri Fabre, a famous French naturalist, was curious about the processionary caterpillar’s behavior and tried an experiment. He coaxed the lead caterpillar onto the rim of a large flowerpot. Through sheer force of habit, the living, creeping circle kept moving around the rim of the pot. Around and around, keeping the same relentless pace and making no progress for seven days and seven nights. There was ample food available nearby, but it wasn’t directly on the circular route. Jean-Henri concluded the caterpillars would have starved had he not terminated the experiment.
The processionary caterpillars followed their instinct – habit – custom – tradition – precedent – standard operating procedure, or whatever you want to call it. They followed it blindly and would have followed it to their ultimate demise. They mistook activity for accomplishment and followership for good practice.
How many times on projects so we act like the processionary caterpillar blindly following the direction of the person with the loudest voice, most political connections or highest rank in our respective organizations? Maybe we should develop the skill to recognize when our eyes are half closed and our heads are positioned squarely against the rear of the person one-up the chain of command.
The only processionary caterpillar with a vision is the lead caterpillar. For everybody else in the chain, the scenery never changes.
It is All About The Heart
Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, writes “What do we want to create? The answer is the vision you and your [team] come together to build and share. Few forces in life and the business world are as powerful as shared vision. The overarching goal that the vision establishes brings about not just commitment; but, new ways of thinking and acting. A good vision fosters risk taking and experimentation.”
Visions speak to the heart as well as the head. And capturing the heart of your team is the best way to get their hands working on achieving your vision.
I have always believed a plan that is 100% on target and executed with 50% commitment, will always lose out to a plan that is 80% on target and executed with 100% commitment. Often the difference between winning and losing is not the accuracy or completeness of the plan. Often it can be found in the difference of passion behind execution.
Tapping into the passion of teams is what the skill of visioning is all about.
Four Visioning Tips
- Create a picture of the future and keep it alive through constant communication with and within the team.
- Focus on the possibilities and not the limitations of a situation.
- Keep your team aware of and delivering against the highest impact priorities. Don’t over sweat the details.
- Personally communicate the vision in both words and actions.
What is Your Experience?
Have you ever seen processionary caterpillar behavior in your organization? Have you experienced the power of a compelling vision? How did it make you feel? Have you ever used possibility thinking in problem solving? How did it work? What resources (blogs, books, articles, etc.) would you recommend to people interested in learning more about this subject? Share your experience and thoughts so the community can learn even more about visioning as a leadership skill.
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