Leadership and Vision

The leader’s vision should drive the organization. True or false? While leadership’s vision is supposed to guide the organization down the path, it just isn’t that simple. No matter how much we try to get our people to “buy-in” to our finely crafted and polished vision, their own personal motivations and values will always be the determining factor in what they do or how well they perform.

“Buy-in.” I hate the term. It turns a leader into a salesperson. Not that I have anything against salespeople. “Some of my best friends, etc., etc.”  However, “buy-in” conjures up images of used cars, “flim-flam men” and Professor Harold Hill from the Music Man. Popular leadership tells us that selling the people on a vision gets them excited and will make them own it and commit to it. In fact, a recent bestseller compares rationality to a Rider and emotion to an Elephant. The Rider may think she’s steering the elephant but watch out when the elephant decides to go its own way! The gurus say, sell the vision to the elephant and the rider will follow. 

It’s just that the leader as salesperson is a tremendous waste of energy and resources. Once a vision is “sold” to someone there must be a tremendous effort made to keep it sold. Savvy CEO’s realize this, making special “vision” appearances but delegating “vision-selling” to others. In reality a leader needs to be focused on industry developments, serious challenges coming at the organization, management tune-up, shareholder expectations, etc. 

However, if a leader can tap into the motivations and values of people, vision does not have to be sold, at least not continually. Construct a corporate vision from the values people already have and you’ll find them excited for new projects, for new ways of expansion. They become scouts looking for uncharted territory. How can you make this happen? 

Change your own understanding of the “vision thing.” Enough with the whole “go to the mountain, bring back the tablets of vision” idea! Instead, realize that your organization has already assembled a group of thinking adults who choose to affiliate with your group. What is their understanding of what you are about? Naturally, only a few people will have the whole picture. That’s because few people have the overall perspective you bring as the leader of the organization. Each person does however have a piece of the puzzle. Construct the vision of your group out of the pieces of your people’s motivations and values and you’ll find the elephant and the rider arriving at the right destination at the right time.

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8 thoughts on “Leadership and Vision

  1. I love the article! Again, right on target with this.

    I always say that your people have to own the business (or the church, or club, etc.) as much if not more than their leader(s), and part of that is they have to have a voice (and FEEL like they have a voice) in the development and growth of that organization.

    I look forward to the next one!

    1. Christopher,
      I’ve found it’s a little easier to connect with the values and motivations of non-profit folks (churches, charities, public/private schools) because non-profits are missional driven. In your for-profit experience, what steps do you take get at these things?

      1. Great question!

        No matter what the organization is you can look at it from a systemic and systematic perspective. There are many different components that make it run successfully. Let me start by addressing a statement you made: “I’ve found it’s a little easier to connect with the values and motivations of non-profit folks (churches, charities, public/private schools) because non-profits are missional driven.” This is a huge component to success, even in the for-profit sector. Not only must there be a mission, but it must be one that everyone supports, drives, and believes in. The question is, how many times do for-profit businesses ensure that they are getting that from the people in their organization? If all organizations had that type of engagement then it becomes less like work, and more like a mission!

        One of the first things to look at, as I wrote about in my most recent blog (http://tinyurl.com/2b87zax), is what are the service objectives that the organization is trying to meet? In other words, what is the ultimate mission, and how close is that to what the end-user/customer wants and expects? That will help to drive the rest of the organization. In a church, there is a mission to bring the Word of God to people, and the members of the church support that. The question is, how do they want the Word to be delivered, and how do the people whom you haven’t reached yet want it to be delivered? What do they want the environment to look and feel like? What opportunities do they want available? If you think about it, most churches are successful because they meet those needs. It truly is about the people in their congregation, and most of the time those are the people that are helping to make the decisions, which helps to create engagement. That’s especially important considering most of the people power is voluntary!

        In many cases the same can be said for not-for-profits. But there are even not-for-profits where, while the mission and drive is shared, the means to that end does not fit and the environment is not correct. If that is the case, then you will more than likely see lackluster results because the systemic pieces do not fit. The thing that many businesses forget is that these same things can be said in the for-profit sector as well. Simply taking the time to find out the customer and the employee perspectives on the organization, products, and services can really do wonders to help match the many pieces together to drive successful performance!

  2. Good stuff, Rupert. Our company has a pretty solid set of core mission/values that are embedded into our culture. So our vision is more about the Strategic aspect of it – Where do we want to take this company? What do we have to do to thrive and take this company out another 50 years? And, yes, in this case we have to get people to “buy in” to the visionary part that is more goal-oriented than culture-oriented. It’s a little bit like pushing people to accomplish more than they thought they could (Did you see them movie “Invictus”?) which is both exciting and scary for some.

    1. One suggestion that I would offer is to make sure that the goals and vision that the organization has set involves the people that will be supporting it. This can be done by either having them help to create the goals and vision, and the strategies to achieve them, or by taking the strategies and vision that is created by senior leadership and consistently ask for input on how the organization can and will achieve them…and then LISTEN! In the case of an organization that has a long standing vision/mission/values, utilize your employees to find out if they are still valid or if there are changes that need to be made. These are ways that will gain engagment and support, and instead of just getting “buy-in”, creates ownership of the organizations success.

      1. Christopher,
        I totally agree, however one of the difficulties in church leadership is making the call on what strategies continue to be relevant to the goals of the church. Often, long ago solutions to previous challenges become enshrined as tradtions. These in turn become part of the perceived identity of the church for some. The answer of course lies in clarifying the purpose and goals of the church. There must also be a change in church leadership…which I address in today’s later post. Thanks for the segue!!

  3. Absolutely true Dr. Loyd! I suppose that in my mind the church, and any other organization for that matter, must review where they are today and where they want to go tomorrow. If the desire is to stay exactly as it is, and all involved are satisfied with that then it isn’t necessary to make any changes. Otherwise you can identify, with the help of the congregation (or employees), what the goals and vision have evolved in to and the strategic plan to get there. If the people supporting the church or the business do not support the vision of the leader(s), you have the following options:

    * Change the leader
    * Everyone leaves to go where they do support the vision, mission, and values
    * The leader must acquiesce to some degree and understand that it is about the people

    I look forward to reading your next article!

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