Setting a clear vision for what is possible is key to discontinuous performance. I have always had a personal need to be driven by a big, bold vision. At P&G, the vision of “Touching Lives, Improving Life” was powerfully motivating to my colleagues and me. Just the concept of my work contributing to changing the lives of people would get me out of bed in the morning excited to start the day. It was a compelling vision I felt great about contributing my time and attention to helping achieve. It is one that continues to resonate emotionally with present and past P&G employees around the world.
Ken Matejka and Richard Dunsing wrote a book titled “A manager’s Guide to the Millennium: Today’s Strategies for Tomorrow’s Success”. In it they wrote “Dream making is an exotic science, a mixture of magic and logic. There is an art form to making things happen that everyone else says can’t be envisioned, let alone accomplished.”
I am admittedly enamored with accomplishing “big things”. The journey alone can get your adrenalin flowing.
But, over the ears I have learned the best way to successfully pursue dreams is to enroll others. And the best way to get people’s hands productively working on your dream is not by capturing their brain; it is by capturing their heart.
Dreaming (visioning) requires a fundamental leap of faith. You must believe people and organizations can become whatever it is they spend their time thinking about and imagining. You have to believe things can be different if the ream is internalized deeply enough for it to guide behavior.
As a leader, you often find yourself in the role of vision maker. You get to hold the lens, to position it, twist it, and help everybody see through it. But, it is also important to remember many people are needed to continually keep that lens cleaned and polished. You need the expert input of these people to ensure what you are seeing is real and clear. And you need to seek out the people who will highlight the flaws in the glass no matter how small they are. These are not naysayers; they are actually the people who help ensure your success.
Is Visioning Psycho Babble?
I think that’s a great question. There is so much meaningless lingo out there that sometimes it is nearly impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Consider what Tom Peters writes in his book – A Passion For Excellence . “Human beings reason largely by means of stories, not by mounds of data. Stories are memorable. They teach.” What is a vision if not a story about the future?
Alan Wilkins has made it his career to study the effects of stories on organizational performance. He has concluded that stories are powerful influencers. Positive stories motivate, teach and spread enthusiasm, loyalty and commitment. Negative stories perpetuate cynicism, distrust and disbelief. One of the most powerful negative story themes is the “sinking ship” story. It results in a disproportionate degree of self-sabotaging behavior. It lends credence to the saying that your altitude is determined by your attitude. How many communities suffer from the “sinking ship” story being told repeatedly? You may recognize it as “We can’t make any real progress until we vote that bum out of office”, or some derivation of that theme.
As a Leader, You Must Be a Story Teller
Once you understand the importance of stories, you need to begin seeing yourself as a story creator and teller. If you prefer the adjective, visionary that works too. You have to know where you are going, be ale to articulate the destination clearly and passionately.
To really make visioning an effective leadership skill, you need to assume personal responsibility. According to Tom Peters – “You gotta love what you do, you gotta care”. Ray Kroc has been quoted as having said – “I see beauty in a hamburger bun”. Len Stefanelli (former CEO of Sunset Scavangers) puts it this way – “If you don’t love your product, why would you expect your people to?”.
Here is my favorite thought on the subject from the great Vince Lombardi – “Mental toughness is humility, simplicity, Spartanism. And one other, love. I don’t necessarily have to like my associates, but as a leader I must love them. Love is loyalty. Love is teamwork. Love respects the dignity of the individual. Heart power is the strength of a great organization.”
Clearly, one secret to achieving great things is the ability to establish a compelling vision. Another is to be skillful in sharing the vision as story that not only opens the minds of people, but also their hearts. In my opinion, the best leaders are those who set clear visions and are great storytellers.
In economic development, how much of success depends on the ability to articulate the vision for where our community is going and the ability to share that story broadly? And yet, most of the discussions I hear focus on communicating facts and figures rather than vision. I fully recognize that the due diligence process demands the sharing of facts and figures. But, I’d argue that it doesn’t preclude telling your community’s story. In the capital investment decision process, context matters in the final decision. Companies, for the most part, want to locate in a community where they can envision prospering for the foreseeable future and where the culture aligns with their organizational values. To be as effective as possible, you need to find a way to tell your story and ideally have the capital investment decision maker see their company as a “hero” character in the next chapter you write.
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