What do you admire in a leader?
That was the question tens of thousands of working people were asked in a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review. Behind honesty, the second most important attribute of a leader was that they be forward-looking. 72% of respondents said this was an important characteristic, and among more-senior roles, the percentage rose to an astounding 88%. With numbers like these, the importance of a shared vision in any organization cannot be understated. The benefits of creating an environment where this message is clearly defined and reiteratively communicated are integral to the success of any organization; they include increased employee engagement, clarity of direction, an emotional commitment to growth, and alignment of individuals with effective actions. In this article, we will explore how effective leaders create and communicate a shared vision for the future.
Start with a Dream
Van Gogh once said, “I dream my painting and I paint my dream.” In many ways, this is how every vision starts — with a dream put into action. Successful envisioning requires boldness. Leaders must question, anticipate, imagine, take risks, and ultimately, change; they must dream big where others see obstacles. In order to effectively create a vision for the future, a leader must adopt this mindset and be willing to consider all options. Below are a few questions to consider when developing that idea:
- Does my vision contain an entrepreneurial idea?
- Will it create strategies in terms of an actionable business idea?
- Is it possible to create a strong organizational culture based on my vision? (In other words, will people actually care about contributing to the success of the organization?)
Reflect on Values
The next step in building a shared vision is to examine the current state as it relates to your overall goals. Identify what’s working and what’s not; look at the present business situation and determine the following:
- What is our purpose as an organization?
- What is our driving force?
- What are our core values?
- What do we want to accomplish in the future?
- What do we want to change moving forward?
The collective answers to each of these will help you identify the core ideology for an effective shared vision.
Note: It is critical that you be brutally honest with these answers. People can easily see through a false vision if your actions as an organization do not represent your vision. For example, if you define innovation as a core value, but you haven’t developed a unique product in a decade, people will spot the disparity and believe your values to be inauthentic. A better alternative to falsifying your image as an organization would be to clearly state your intentions (i.e. grow revenue, reduce overhead costs, etc.). Even if they are boring or uninspiring, being honest with current and potential future employees, as well as your customers, will establish trust — a foundational component of any successful organization.
Create Future Strategies
Moving forward, it is important to identify the greatest opportunities to close the gap between your vision and your current reality. Developing a successful shared vision requires that it meet the needs of the organization’s stakeholders and is adaptive enough to create competitive strategies within the industry. Look for ways to achieve a few quick wins; this will create instant buy-in from stakeholders, demonstrate progress, and maintain motivation across the organization.
Develop a Communication Plan
For a vision to become reality, it is important to evaluate not only what it says, but how it’s created, how it’s communicated, and how it’s lived. Communication of the vision is integral; this step can make or break the entire process. In order to ensure success, develop a plan for ongoing communications to stakeholders. A shared vision must be communicated in everyday actions and behaviors to make a difference in organizational performance. (I’ll repeat that: A shared vision must be communicated in everyday actions and behaviors to make a difference in organizational performance.) Ask yourself the following questions as you determine the best option for continual communication:
- What will be the evaluation and feedback process moving forward?
- What, if any, are the potential roadblocks?
- How will leadership communicate the shared vision?
As a leader, a key step in creating any organizational message is to model the values being set forth. You must believe it, live it, and behave consistently with it. Ask yourself and the leadership team to identify specific goals and actions they will personally take to demonstrate this commitment. In doing so, individuals become personally vested in the success of the message. This is one of the most powerful steps in the process and will allow the shared vision to live through each stakeholder’s thoughts, communications, and actions.
Does your organization have a vision statement? If so, is it frequently communicated to all levels of stakeholders? What actions can you personally commit to in order to better represent the shared vision of the organization?
Gill, R. (2011). Theory and practice of leadership (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
Schein, E. H. (1985). Organizational culture and leadership: A dynamic view. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
We would like to thank Whitney Lane for this post, Click Here to check out her website!