Having a shared vision is supposed to make coordinating actions easier. It is also one way we avoid becoming victims of circumstance, “drifting in the marketplace”.
Producing shared vision, meanwhile, requires effective communication – and the larger the group, the more simple and direct the communication must be, or people won’t “get it”.
The challenge of simple and direct communication is that it requires great clarity of thought and more than a little courage.
– Leading Change (Kotter, 1996), pp. 89-90.
Which brings us to this topic of this post.
Sometimes I struggle with clarity of thought, and sometimes I struggle with courage. As I think about it, the first makes room for the second… but I need both to produce the shared vision I’m after.
Developing clarity of thought
I was in a management meeting back in 2003 where a divisional VP was complaining about corporate email services. She mentioned that IT infrastructure services should be “transparent to end users”.
Most IT leaders I know would generally agree with her – we try to avoid forcing end users (customers) to speak in our language, care about our server names or even notice when we need to upgrade an infrastructure component.
But how often do you think IT leaders integrate a simple statement like hers into their visions? I’d love to think the answer is “all the time”, but I expect that for every statement like hers that I remember, I’ve personally missed others that could have really shaped my vision.
So always be on the lookout for other examples that can help shape your vision – economic, technological, political or demographic.
Clarity helps produce courage
Then when you have a list or inventory of the domains that affect your vision, maybe the best way to refine them is to speak with others about them (that is, with those who are competent to speak about them).
Be open to their contradictions and their redirection. Your goal is not to be “right”, but to develop a vision that is clear against which you will have direction and focus for your work and your career. You don’t have to act on their philosophies, but you can accept that they think differently and use it to shape how you think, too.
Last week I was speaking with an IT networking client who was struggling to take on a leadership posture. When I asked him about his vision for his area of expertise, he spoke about “the cloud”, wireless, mobility, near field communications (NFC), various application services being provided by Google and similar companies, etc.
He could have picked up his inventory from ReadWriteWeb or any of a number of sources. Knowing the domains and the technologies involved is where many IT folks find strength, but by itself it does not translate into a vision of some future situation that others will follow.
It is in getting down to a deeper personal meaning that vision takes hold and helps in leading others.
So I asked my client, “What does the cloud mean to you?” What is its effect on your life, your work, your career? What will you exploit about it? In five years, what will your world look like because of it?
Ultimately, the better we can describe a future life in all the domains we care about (not just one), the more we can really clarify our vision.
It is not enough for my client to think about the cloud when he has many other concerns as well. Describing a good future meaning for each of his domains of concern will be a greater help to him.
Don’t leave it to chance, as just an inventory of technologies… describe it.
Don’t do it because somebody said your career will be more successful if you always look ahead five years.
Do it because your mind’s eye sees the future situation as an appropriate, consequential and powerful outcome of what you see happening today and how your actions are required to make it happen.
In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge describes a metaphor for creative tension as follows:
Imagine a rubber band, stretched between your vision and current reality. When stretched, the rubber band creates tension… There are only two possible ways for the tension to resolve itself: pull reality toward the vision or pull the vision toward reality. Which occurs will depend on whether we hold steady to the vision.
– The Fifth Discipline (Senge, 1994), p. 150.
Creative tension is a source of energy for “more than a little courage”. The better you can describe, the better you can see, the stronger the force you can bring to bear in sharing your vision with others.
Just remember to keep it simple as you communicate.
We can discuss more about courage in another post.