Saturday, December 20, 2008

Vision and Motivation

There are probably hundreds of authors who have talked about the importance of vision in leadership. Vision is, without a doubt, one of the essential elements that goes into separating the average top manager from the successful leader.

Here are a few examples of what some of the thought-leaders of our day have had to say about the importance of leadership in our organizations:
  • The Leadership Diamond, developed by Dr. Peter Koestenbaum, incorporates vision as one of the four foundational components of leadership.
  • Kouzes and Posner's book, The Leadership Challenge, lists "inspiring a shared vision" as one of five essential steps to being a successful leader.
  • Kevin Cashman shows that before you can help others reach their potential, you must define yourself, and get clear on your vision. In his view, vision forms the cornerstone of personal success and fulfillment.
  • Daniel Goleman, and his co-authors of Primal Leadership, define six leadership styles, with visionary leadership being at the top of the list.
In every case, the wizards of leadership thought agree that to be motivated and successful an organization must have a clear and compelling vision of what it is they are trying to create as a result of their effort.

The relationship between having a clear vision and a motivated workforce is illustrated by the often retold story (perhaps apocryphal) about the architect Christopher Wren. Wren lived in London in the mid 1600s, and was known as an accomplished architect who's designs included the Royal Observatory, Trinity College at Cambridge, and St. Paul's Cathedral.

As the story goes, St. Paul's Cathedral, as well as the majority of London, burned to the ground in the great fire of 1666. During the rebuilding of the cathedral, Wren was visiting the construction site, watching his design take shape, when he noticed two workers laboring side by side laying bricks in one of the outer walls of the new cathedral. One of the workers seemed dull and slow, and clearly not engaged in his work. The other was laboring hard, with enthusiasm, doing fine work at an impressive pace.

Wren approached the first bricklayer and asked him what he was doing. The bricklayer replied, "What does it look like I'm doing? I'm laying bricks." Wren then went to the second bricklayer and asked the same question, "What are you doing?" The second bricklayer looked up and greeted Wren with a smile and a nod, and replied "I am building a beautiful cathedral, sir."

The difference between these two workers was that one saw only meaningless labor, while the other had a vision of what he was trying to create as a result of his effort.

Koestenbaum describes vision as the crowning achievement of human evolution. Vision is the means by which we see the future. German poet Rainer Maria Rilke said "The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens." Koestenbaum adds, "It is not just the future that transforms itself. It is the future in us that transforms us now so that the future itself can happen to us." (P. 277-278, The Philosophic Consultant).

Kouzes and Posner define vision as "... an ideal and unique image of the future." (P. 95, The Leadership Challenge) This image of the future is not limited to improving on what exists. It can be a leap from "what is" to "what can be" without any knowledge of how to get from where we are to where we are going.

Peter Block, in his book The Answer to How is Yes, would agree that knowing how to move from today into the future is not a requirement. What is required is a commitment to the future, and the "how" will become evident.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Cashman's Leadership from the Inside Out shows how important it is to align actions and persona with the deeply seated values that drive the individual. When an individual's values are aligned with the organization's values and vision, there can be a partnership that leads to success for both. When there is alignment, the individuals within the organization are like the second bricklayer in the Christopher Wren story.

And finally, in Goleman's Primal Leadership, visionary leadership is one of six essential leadership styles. Visionary leadership helps "...people to see how their work fits into the big picture, lending people a clear sense not just that what they do matters, but why." (P. 57, Primal Leadership)

There is agreement among the great thinkers of the leadership world on the subject of vision. It is a magnet into the future; it inspires personal commitment; it is essential to moving forward together. And, when it is missing, organizations wander in the wilderness.

If you see yourself as a leader, you need to ask yourself if you have inspired a shared vision within your organization. You may be amazed at the answers you find, and the possibilities that present themselves when the answer is Yes.