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Volume 3, No. 1 January, 2005 ~ Provided for clients and friends of the Leadership Resource Group ~

The Leadership Challenge: Inspire a Shared Vision By Jill Tomac

"Leaders inspire a shared vision. They gaze across the horizon of time, imagining the attractive opportunities that are in store when they and their constituents arrive at a distant destination. Leaders have a desire to make something happen, to change the way things are, to create something that no one has ever created before." ~ James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge Effective leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. They have the desire to make something happen, to change the way things are, to create something that was never there before. This vision is often a reflection of the leader's highest standards and values. Although many leaders have a sense of what they want to do, I have found that many have difficulty articulating their vision, gaining clarity for themselves and others. In my work with clients, we often start by creating an Ideal Scene, which is a lively, energetic, and vivid description of where they would like to be. This clear vision of the future pulls them forward. Yet, a vision seen only by the leader is not enough to create momentum to make significant changes within an organization. It takes the buy-in, dedication, and support of the leader's many constituents. And people will not follow if they do not accept the vision as their own. Leaders cannot command commitment, they can only inspire it. To enlist constituents, leaders must understand the needs, values, hopes, and aspirations of others and then incorporate these ideals into the vision. Leaders create a shared purpose that is for the common good. Following are some techniques to assist leaders in inspiring a shared vision: Utilize Lessons Learned From the Past Before looking at where you want to go, valuable information can be derived by looking at where you have been. By reflecting on both the peaks and valleys of the organization, patterns and best practices can be identified. Some leaders find it helpful to conduct a SWOT analysis in which the organization's current internal Strengths and Weaknesses are along with external Opportunities and Threats. Then conducting an exploration to capitalize on strengths, close the weakness gaps, build on opportunities, and minimize the threats can pave the way for a clear vision. Determine What You Want As mentioned earlier, creating an energetic and vivid description of where you want to go can be of great assistance in creating excitement and enthusiasm for the future. This exercise can be done as a free flowing brainstorm to identify the numerous qualities and aspects desired within the organization. Items may include descriptions of the client relationships, employee interactions, communication flow, teamwork demonstrated, product innovation, profit growth. What is most important is that every item is clearly and energetically outlined creating a vivid picture of what the organization looks and feels like making the intangible tangible. Listen Effective leaders make the time and place value on listening to others. This allows the leader to truly understand what is important to constituents. Walking the halls, engaging in casual conversations, and scheduling one-on-one meetings allow leaders to get a sense of what is really going on in the minds and hearts of those who are critical to the organization's success. Kouzes and Posner state "To truly hear what your constituents want ­ what they desperately hope to make you understand, appreciate, and include within the vision ­ requires that you periodically suspend your regular activity and spend time listening to others."


Identify Key Stakeholders To execute a vision it is essential to have constituents on board. Your direct reports and organizational leaders are obvious stakeholders, but also consider enlisting your peers, customers, and suppliers. Once constituents have been identified, effective leaders engage in conversations about their lives, hopes, and dreams. As Kouzes and Posner eloquently state, "leadership is a dialogue, not a monologue". Leadership is not about imposing a personal agenda or persuading others why they should want to head in a certain direction. It's about creating a shared sense of destiny which addresses the values, desires, and aspirations of others. When leaders are able to effectively communicate a vision, constituents report higher levels of job satisfaction, motivation, commitment, loyalty, pride, and productivity. Speak Positively When talking about the vision, try to avoid words like "try" or "might", rather say "will" and "are". Of course there are many contingencies in executing a vision but continually focusing on the obstacles will ensure that it never happens. It's okay to acknowledge the hardships and challenges that may be encountered, but it's not helpful to dwell on them or use them as an excuse for not moving forward on those initiatives which support the vision. Continually reaffirm staff members that you have confidence in their abilities to succeed. Keep in mind that as a leader, you are continually modeling the way; others are noticing your attitudes and behaviors. As you enthusiastically talk about where the organization is headed and celebrate the milestones your energy becomes contagious.

"I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true."

~Walt Disney

If you would like additional information please call the Leadership Resource Group, LLC 949·706·1150 or visit our website at



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