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Kubica LaForest Consulting Newsletter: December 2013

Kubica LaForest Consulting

Shared Vision – A Critical Leadership Tool

Unless there is alignment by the executive team and collective understanding by your staff on where you are going, why you are going there, and what the benefits are, the chance of successfully moving the organization forward is low.

Simply stated – shared vision matters.

Leadership can be defined as the ability to organize and influence others to take action to achieve a common task or goal. Leadership is intangible, hard to describe but easy to spot. What do all great leaders do? They give us a vision; they give us a glimpse of what the future could look like and the benefits we can experience, and they get us excited about helping create it.

In late November, the nation spent time reflecting on the assassination of John F. Kennedy – it happened 50 years ago. A theme was about his vision for the country. One was his challenge to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, which we did.

While it may be easy to understand a political leader's vision, such as we experienced with President Kennedy, it may be harder for us to understand that leaders at all levels of an organization have the same power to move an organization forward with a shared vision.

Shared vision has been shown to improve outcomes in:

  • Boss–subordinate relationships
  • Cross functional work groups
  • Departments
  • Operating units within organizations
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Doctor patient relationship.

Let's look at the boss–subordinate relationship. This is especially important to us because research shows that employees leave bosses more often than they leave companies. The tales of the "bad boss" are legendary, and sometimes frightening.

How about when the boss–subordinate relationship works? What's happening? What's happening is that they have a shared vision of:

  • What can be accomplished
  • Confidence they can overcome any obstacle
  • Confidence in each other
  • Shared belief and understanding of the benefits that will result from achieving the objective

This starts with the leader – with you. You need to have and persistently reinforce the vision of where you are headed; be open to ideas, thoughts and suggestions from your subordinates and from your team members; be able to articulate the roles and ways team members contribute to making it happen; and the benefits to everyone involved. Lastly and key, you must listen – to your team members, your staff, your clients. If you don't, then you simply are not a leader. You may be a manager but you surely are not a leader.

Now there is an important caveat to mention in the critical boss–subordinate relationship. A good one is grounded in shared vision with mutual expectations. That doesn't mean the boss and the subordinate need to be best friends or even friends. They need, however, to respect each other as people, respect and support each other's: work, ethics, knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes.

The boss–subordinate dyad that is based on favoritism or sycophantic behavior is not a contributor to success because in this scenario the support one provides the other is opportunistic and not substantive. Others in the organization can easily see the favoritism, and sycophantic behavior screams out to the organization. A shared vision is just that – shared not for personal agendas, but for the collective good of the business.

Let's expand on a few of the prior examples regarding research supporting the importance of shared vision in creating a positive outcome:

  • Byron Clayton1 studied mergers and acquisitions and found that "shared vision is a more effective driver of championing behaviors". It was more important than financial incentives.
  • John Neff2, examining the non–financial factors in organizational performance of family–owner businesses, found that shared vision was a significant contributor to performance
  • The work of Kouzes and Posner3 (authors of The Leadership Challenge), identify shared vision as one of the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership ®)

So, ask yourself, how do you as the leader, catalyze a shared vision?

It starts with you having a vision for the future, which is:

  • Realistic,
  • Believable, and
  • Achievable.

Some managers, who are trying to be leaders, set ridiculously unachievable goals thinking that aggressive goals will motivate the employees. The exact opposite happens.

Let's look at some examples:

  • We will double our revenue next year
    • The company has been losing clients and revenue for the past few years. Not having a losing year would be a victory. Having a year where revenue showed positive growth would be a significant improvement.
  • We will enter two new markets next year
    • The company does not have the financial resources or the talent to enter one additional market let alone two. Entering one new market would be a stretch but achievable; two new is not believable.

Once your vision for the future is defined and it is realistic, believable, and achievable, now you need to sell it. This is an active, day–to–day ongoing process that involves:

  • Have identifiable and demonstrated values (attitudes, beliefs and behaviors) which drive improvement
  • Be optimistic. We do not support any type of false optimism. If a situation is bad, it's bad, denying it or glossing over it makes you not believable. But by acknowledging a bad situation, or a set back, and reframing it in a way that is both realistic and believable, you keep the vision and forward momentum alive. You provide the organization and its employees a sense of hope. A sense of a better future that is achievable if certain actions are taken
  • Build relationships. You need to be talking with people, coaching them, mentoring them, listening to them, and answering their questions – constantly. You never stop communicating, you never stop explaining, and you never stop listening.
  • Team work. Nothing in an organization gets done by only one person working alone. Teamwork is critical especially when it comes to breaking down silos and working as an organizational whole.
  • Lead from the front. Be out there, visible every day, especially when there are set backs and bad news. Your employees need to see you not only when things go right, but more importantly when they don't.

Think about great leaders whom you worked for or whom you admire. Now compare the above attributes with the great leaders you know.

While the debate on whether leaders are made or born will go on and on into the future, we leave you with our opinion: Leaders are made. They are made by intention and practice. If you want to be a leader, if you choose to be a leader, and you are willing to learn, exhibit, and practice the traits of a leader, the likelihood of you becoming a leader are very good.

References:

  1. Clayton, Byron, When Practice And Theory Conflict: Do Financial Incentives Influence Championing Behaviors In Mergers And Acquisitions?, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University
  2. Neff, John, Non–Financial Indicators Of Family Firm Performance: A Portfolio Model Approach, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University
  3. Kouzes, James and Posner, Barry, The Leadership Challenge, Jossey–Bass, 2012.
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