Thursday, October 8, 2009

Turn your visions into reality!

A leader shouldn’t overdrive his workforce lest they grow weary and slide from motivation to indifference. Short-term thinking is an obsession with quick results. But the vision trip isn’t a sprint.

A vision can’t be held sacrosanct because it’s susceptible to social change. Time and events are sometimes cruel to visions. They may render them obsolete or block their implementation. Then, in spite of its vulnerability, a vision is one of the main things that make leadership tick. You should know that visioning is a systematic exercise. It isn’t something that can be done anyhow. If you want results you have to follow the process – from birthing of visions to their actualisation (or destination).

The Vision Orbit

“Vision,” writes Burt Nanus, “is composed of one part foresight, one part insight, and plenty of imagination and judgment, and often a healthy dose of chutzpah.” Nanus, a professor of management and author/editor of 20 books on leadership, is right – at least on the physical plane of vision formation and implementation where most leaders likely operate. For such leaders, a vision would be a product of intuition, imagination, hard thinking, rigorous research and stubborn faith.

Here is how all this may work out a vision. Examine the fossils of past industrial disasters and see why those organisations went down in red. Check on those great organisations to see what makes them so great and formidable. Consider the craze of the moment and imagine how your own organisation can take advantage of the ongoing fad to improve its performance. If you are in doubt, ask those who know or clear the haze by further reading or a survey. Filter everything through the sieve of swot-analysis of your own organisation. You will get an idea of something new that you can do to improve your organisation’s stand. Explore that new thing. Believe it. It’s vision.

Now, I suppose you have conceived a vision about some great lift for your organisation and you’ve developed and fine-tuned it by giving it a critical look and presenting it for discussion before your team. Through appropriate communication, you’ve shared the vision with them and they’ve accepted it.

You’ve got a vision – but what next? This question wouldn’t have been necessary if leaders had always respected their visions. But many don’t seem to have the knowledge that a vision has inevitable consequences. A vision leads to a vocation. With a vision come a mission and a goal. There are challenges on the way; for the goal of a vision comes with a price tag. You must pay this price or your vision will die. Many visions fade away and die because the leader fails to act on them. And dead visions have calamitous effects on an organisation’s all-round growth. In the short run, they stagnate the process of change unless they are replaced by similar and equal alternatives. In the long run, they breed skepticism in the workforce.

If an organisation is reputed for stillborn visions, its workforce gradually become fatalistic skeptics who regard talks about change with upturned nose and relish keeping business on as usual. So if you are not prepared to launch out, don’t go on the vision trip. If you do, you will harm the psyche of your organisation.

Therefore, after you’ve got the vision, the next thing is action. A vision not acted upon is useless. However, if you must act, you must act right and appropriately do things that would help launch the vision into its operational orbit. Sharing the vision with the workforce through communication isn’t enough. If you don’t wisely engage the staff, money and machines in pursuit of the goals of the vision, your vision will forever remain a fine success on paper! So apply your organisation’s resources, as your vision requires.

Here is an outline of other actions your vision demands for its actualisation.
* Align your values with the vision. Your organisation’s values must not be at variance with the vision. For example, integrity is the core value of any organisation that aspires to genuine greatness. The pursuit of a new vision shouldn’t tempt the organisation to compromise this core value. A vision pursued at the expense of an organisation’s core values will backfire and cost the organisation its reputation. If your organisation loses its reputation, the dividends of your vision won’t save it from going under.

* Adjust your leadership style to suit implementation of
the vision. With a new vision, a new social context emerges; and
work situation may change such that the old way of doing
things may no longer apply. For example, democracy may give way for autocracy if the vision introduces the workforce to tasks about which they possess minimal knowledge. In this situation workers have to be told what to do and initiative isn’t encouraged. Conversely, if the new tasks are familiar and the workforce has the requisite skills, autocratic leadership would be inappropriate. Barring minimal supervision, workers may be left to handle things themselves. Usually, effective leaders combine all leadership styles.

* Allow the vision to be shared with all staff periodically to sustain efforts for its realisation. There is the tendency to lose focus and discount commitment if the vision isn’t talked about for a long period. The workforce needs the constant reminder that they are on a journey and a detour or defection would delay arrival at the dreamland. They need to be held under the vision’s spell by constant motivation through good communication.
* Assess the value of the vision in the light of social events at particular times. As you move your organisation in the new direction, it is necessary to conduct periodic assessment of the vision’s current value and relevance, lest you arrive in the dreamland and discover that the world has moved on and what your vision yields barely offers your organisation the warmth of a cup of coffee in a blizzard. Periodically check on events and the landscape to see what changes are looming and the effect they may have on your vision.

* Abandon the vision if events show it has overstayed its welcome or lost its relevance. Yes, a vision in the physical realm isn’t foolproof even at its most developed state. So it is strange if a leader holds on to a vision that is no longer relevant or productive, instead of reforming it or dropping it to allow him dream another dream.

Since visioning is so central to effective leading, the leader should steer his vision away from certain danger zones. George Barna has written a splendid paper on this subject. He identifies six vision killers that the leader should avoid like a plague. Although Barna writes from a spiritual perspective, his “six killers” can also strike in other worlds. I will list the killers in the order Barna presents them; but the comments are mine.

The first is tradition. A leader may shy away from visioning if he finds no record of visionary projects in the organisation. He may reason that if the organisation has always been run without putting it through the rigour and pains of adventure, why bother now? But that may be the chief reason why he is hired – to put the organisation on the run!

The second vision-killer is fear. Vision calls for change at a price. Its pursuit may tear down the “old” order of things radicalising the organisation. This is risky. For those who are wary of rocking the boat, a vision is a scary travel-mate. For it might call for deployment of new skills and – ha! – the laying off of some old hands. A leader may be short of boldness to handle all this. Yet, by its sheer adoption, vision releases fresh courage, energy and hope. A leader should find strength and faith in these attributes to conquer the fear of uncertainties that a vision unleashes.

The third killer: stereotypes. For our purpose, a stereotype is a popular preconception about the products or services the organisation offers. For example, it is popular belief that many people are cutting down on sugar and beef for health reasons. So why would a CEO nurture the vision to expand the production base of his sugar factory? Yet, upon close examination, the belief might turn out to be false as only a class of the populace might be avoiding sugar while the rest of us are even obsessed with its use. Don’t let stereotypes weaken your resolve to advance the fortunes of your organisation. Check them up. They often turn out to be untrue.

Killer four: complacency. George Barna counsels leaders to test their passion quotient in seeking visions. I recommend that leaders repeat the test when the vision is really on. Complacency is slouth dressed up. Complacency either blocks the birth of visions or kills them at birth.

The remaining two killers are fatigue and short-term thinking. Fatigue comes from lack of rest between vision intervals. Therefore, a leader shouldn’t overdrive his workforce lest they grow weary and slide from motivation to indifference. Short-term thinking is an obsession with quick results. But the vision trip isn’t a sprint. Fatigue and myopia produce strong aversion for visioning; and leaders had better avoid them.

Prayer for the day : God let my visions click.

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