People want to follow leaders who have a vision. Although team members may respect what Yogi Berra contributed to baseball, they aren’t interested in a leader who leads the way forward using Yogi’s famous quote, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Yet even the best vision for your team’s work is far from a sure thing. You may stumble along the way for various reasons: your environment may throw up roadblocks, your organization’s culture may get in the way, or you may even realize that your vision is no longer compelling.
How can you handle these challenges to your vision without going off the rails?
The outside environment throws up a roadblock
Sometimes it’s the outside world that frustrates the achievement of a team’s vision. Like any obstacle, a change thrust upon your organization from the outside can be met in three ways—by climbing over it, breaking through it, or working around it.
There is something to your mindset when you first notice an obstacle. Some of us our more positive thinkers. For leaders, it’s important to remain encouraging and positive as you noodle through change with your team. Positive leaders are known to enhance job satisfaction and even improve performance among team members.
So take a deep breath and get to work!
Clearly, you can’t predict all changes. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could? But you can anticipate changes on the horizon and then, when they inevitably occur, analyze whether the change is friend or foe of your team’s vision. If it’s a friendly change, strategize with your team about how to leverage it to accelerate the achievement of your vision. If it’s an unfriendly change—one that threatens your vision’s course—talk to you team about how to mitigate negative impacts or even get creative in how you can turn a seemingly threatening change into a positive one.
Think that can’t happen?
Talk to any number of government organizations about their initial frustration with customers expecting an Amazon-type “click the app and receive it at your front door the next day” service request system for everything from filling potholes to renewing a boat registration. The technology may be slower to adapt, but public servants all across the country are learning how to turn rapidly changing technology into better services for residents.
Our first reaction when discovering something in the path to our vision is most likely frustration, but sometimes as Ryan Holiday wrote, The Obstacle Is the Way.
The internal culture starts throwing you off your path.
Oftentimes teams struggle with gossiping and infighting that throws them off working together to achieve a vision. Those types of behaviors are a sign of an unhealthy culture. But there are ways to work with your team to improve how they work together and keep moving forward.
Being mindful of culture is particularly relevant during organizational development efforts that create unease for some people. But what can you do about it? First, keep cultural expectations clear by grounding the team in your organizational values. Look for ways to show how the vision aligns with your values and—hopefully—people’s personal values. Values are the “bottom line” for how people make decisions and staying mindful of personal values has been shown to create a higher level of organizational commitment.
Also, show team members that the organization is committed to their well-being. Recognition and support create a much higher level of employee diligence and commitment.
Culture is a powerful and often unseen force in organizations and achieving a truly healthy culture takes work. But if you can harness that power and turn it into a positive force for your vision, hang on! With the force of the team pulling together, you will achieve amazing things.
Your vision is no longer aspirational.
Say you with your team to create a 10-year vision. Five years later you may not be 100% there but you feel like you’re within 18 months of achieving your vision.
That’s too close! You will begin to see the energy of the team dissipating if you don’t revisit your vision.
If you find yourself with this enviable challenge, it’s time to revisit your vision just like the good people at King County Finance and Business Operations did.
Realizing that your vision is just around the corner instead of off on the horizon creates an excellent opportunity to have a conversation with your team. Remember to celebrate successes you’ve reached in achieving your vision before you move on and create a new vision. Capture what’s worked and move onto the next step in your journey!
Getting started: leaders create and collaborate to reach a great vision
For many leaders at all levels, creating and enlisting others in creating and moving toward a vision sounds foreign. In fact, inspiring a shared vision is the least frequently exhibited of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership in over 30 years of research behind The Leadership Challenge.
Given that, is it worth your time as a leader to create a vision with your team? Is it worth stretching outside your comfort zone to inspire them to want to come along? Yes, it is. The good news is that you don’t have to be a charismatic character to be a visionary for your team. If you wonder if introverts can be great leaders, read the book Quiet by Susan Cain.
Extroverts and introverts can create visions for their teams—whether they be an entire organization, a department, a division or even a small workgroup. And it works in all industries. Read on for a study on how nurse leaders employ The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership to help other nurses and patients.
Team members want to know you are able to see around corners for them. They want to see you anticipate and help them respond to change. They also want to lay out the path to your vision with you. They want to know that you are looking out into the future for the betterment of the organization and at the same time looking out for what matters to them personally—including what they value individually.
The best leaders find ways to set that vision and also show people how their interests can be met by helping you achieve your aspirations for the organization. And research by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, shows that leaders who frequently show others how their long-term interests can be realized by enlisting in a common vision have people who believe they are making a difference. It’s is a great source of motivation and engagement, as one large healthcare organization found.
Need to get started on a vision that’s compelling and unique? Try these few things:
- Download The Leadership Challenge Vision Workbook This thorough resource is full of exercises and activities to help you develop and share a vision with your team.
- Watch Simon Sinek’s Video “Start with why – how great leaders inspire action”:
- In your next meeting, share your vision for your team; and ask team members to share their ideas so the vision becomes a shared vision for the team. Follow up by asking each team member to describe the role they see themselves playing in support of the shared vision.