Alchemy for the common good: vision and purpose in leadership (3)

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“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” Antoine de Saint Exupéry

In this final feature on creating vision for the common good, Council on Business & Society’s Christian Koenig and Tom Gamble cover the question of how a vision is created, how to roll it out and its impact on people, organisations and the wider environment.

PART 3: Vision: creation, implementation, impact

How do you create a vision? Where does it come from? Firstly, leaders that make a difference are set apart from the rest in that they have a certain sense of destiny, an energy that drives them to want to change things for the better – not only for themselves but for others too. It is a conviction that transforms into a calling or a voice that tells the leader he or she is meant to do something.

The source

Practically, vision can come from insight – a deeply felt understanding of an issue or a compelling truth that separates the probable from the possible to become an evident belief: this has to be done, this has to be changed, and this has to be reached.

Secondly, a vision can come from setback, trial or failure too. It is often during adversity, our darkest hours, that we search for new worlds and the ways to get there. Confronted with setback or even ridicule, it is the sense of indignation and battered self-esteem that can ignite our fighting spirit and send our imaginations into creating positive outcomes that we would love to see happen.

Wood Bookshelf in the Shape of Human Head and books near break wall, Knowledge Concept
We have many stories within us

Thirdly, vision can equally stem from what excites and motivates us in our lives – this is how many organisations are born and grow. Serendipity, too, may spark off a vision – the fortunate discovery of something; error or misfortune which could send the leader into inflexion and a sudden encounter with a positive truth or opportunity.

In addition, vision may also be about leaving your mark. A leader looks beyond the present, over the horizon to the long term and wonders how he or she would like to be remembered and what positive stamp or trace can be left. This is linked to a leader’s sense of ambition and recognition which, when inspiring the mind to wander towards imagining possible goals, discovers additional benefits for others and becomes purpose, which in turn becomes a vision.

Finally, vision requires creative thinking. Analogy is a major source of creativity and visionary leaders can derive insights from a variety of inspirations, in particular in the arts or in history. Curiosity and the ability to learn and draw analogies from a variety contexts and situations are therefore a major managerial and leadership talent from this perspective.

Planning your vision

We have a plan
We have a plan

Before any implementation of a vision, the manager-leader has to take a long, hard look at the impact of the changes the vision will make on his/her people and organisation. Insight, both emotional and logical, is a key factor here. How will the changes affect people’s roles and sense of identity, their values and beliefs, skills, behaviours and environment1?

How will the vision take people from the known into the unknown and what fears or resistance will this produce? What do they want from all this? How do they see the vision, the change? How can the roots, history and assets of both the people and the organisation be tied in to the future, so that people see change as a logical continuation of things?

What shared beliefs and motivations does the leader and his/her people have in common? It is by analysing and assessing the effects of the vision that the leader can then adapt it and begin to align people, resources, belief and commitment behind it.

Vision is constant

Searching for a New World
I am captain of myself and of this ship

Once the vision is launched, the leader’s job is not yet done – far from it. Along the journey towards the vision, the leader will have to constantly show proof of his/her leadership skills which include listening to people, dealing with their fears and possible resistance, defending the vision in the face of criticism, rejection or ridicule, regularly communicating simple, effective and inspiring messages, providing managers or individuals with feedback on their efforts to reach the vision and showing flexibility to develop and re-adapt the vision in the face of changing events and environments.

Moreover, the leader faces as much a challenge with his or her own fears of failure and change as others. Under possible and perhaps constant internal and external pressure, what driving values and beliefs will rise to the occasion and push the leader onward? What resources and energy does the leader possess? What higher motivations will pull the leader towards the vision despite the possible risks, trials and dangers involved? Who can the leader rely on for advice, legitimacy and additional resources? These are the moments of truth for a leader. And they can prove inspiring for others at the same time.

Why you should imagine

Imagination may lead to great things
Imagination may lead to great things

To conclude, we need vision because we need meaning. We need vision because the world moves and changes; because we want to be part of that dynamism and change on the condition that it is positive and beneficial for ourselves and others. We also need vision because humankind is essentially motivated by hopes and a sense of creativity that pushes us to change and create improved systems, developments, ways of life or even worlds. And finally, vision can pick people up from what may seem to them to be the limitations of daily trial and effort and turn the obligations of objectives and results into inspiring pictures of desired achievement, reward and recognition that benefit not only themselves but others.

1 See Robert Dilts/Gregory Bateson, the Logical levels pyramid.

Useful links

The Council on Business & Society Global Alliance is an ongoing international dialogue between six of the world’s leading business schools and an organiser of Forums focusing on issues at the crossroads of business and society – The Council Community helps bring together business leaders, academics, students and journalists from around the world. #CouncilonBusinessandSociety

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