Book extract: Leading With Vision
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Companies are going through rapid changes. The environment is volatile, complex, and leaders need to innovate constantly to stay ahead of the game. In their new book Leading With Vision, Bonnie Hagemann, Simon Vetter and John Maketa list the ways in which leaders can connect with millennials, ensuring higher returns for organizations in talent and innovation. They also discuss how preconceived notions and lack of buy-in can be hurdles in achieving this. Edited excerpts:
Getting even two people to share a common picture of the future can be difficult (just think about marriage!), but getting thousands of people to share a common picture is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Just when you think you have it all aligned, one of the six sides has a coloured cube in the wrong place.
Leaders who are trying to create a shared vision must first accept that each and every person has his or her own ideas and preconceived notions about what could be and what should be. In order to address this, leaders must give a lot of thought to the way the vision is rolled out and communicated.... It takes a little thought and patience, but it’s better to take time to clear a place for the vision to land than to let it settle in an unreceptive or even hostile environment.
Clearing the landing place for the vision means helping employees let go of the past, let go of the current vision and the assumptions about what they think the future of the organization should be. But, unlike felling a tree, landing a vision in the hearts of employees is not a once-and-done thing. Leaders need to be continually clearing and continually working to keep the vision in the hearts of the employees. Leaders can help others lay aside all of the things that get in the way of engaging around a vision by painting the picture clearly so everyone can begin to visualize together. Everyone needs to know where they’re going, how they’re going to get there, and what part they will play in the story of the vision. Disarming assumptions involves asking better questions, challenging each other, and challenging ourselves. Leaders can help set the stage by modelling the behaviour that is desired all the way through the organization. Leaders who want their employees to challenge their own thinking and become open to experiments and options need to show them how it’s done by doing it personally and authentically. Lead by example—we’re all familiar with the phrase, but how many of us actually take the time to do it?
Leaders must also address the need to gain buy-in throughout the organization. It’s one thing to create a compelling vision and roll it out, but at its best, a vision becomes shared and internalized via deep conversations about how it pertains to the work between senior leaders and staff. As explained earlier, some organizations even engage in hands-on contribution to its creation. This hands-on approach naturally addresses preconceived notions, and not just on the part of staff. As senior leaders test out their vision with employees, they can learn much more about how it applies in real-world situations. To understand this properly, it helps to think about how human beings naturally tend to care about something that they help create. When a person has a say and helps to create a vision, it becomes as much that person’s baby as the company’s or the small group of people who started the discussion.