The Power of Vision, Part 4

Colorful-vision_Lu-Lacerda.jpg

Photo Credit: Colorful Vision, by Lu Lacerda, Flickr

I’m in a mini-series focused on the power of vision.

In Part 1 I began by providing the following definition of vision: vision is a picture of a preferred future. Further, I described the major work of leaders as communicating this picture of a preferred future in a manner that is compelling and unifying.

In Part 2, I engaged the capacity of vision to provide passion, motivation, direction, and purpose for life and leadership.

In Part 3, I engaged how leaders can help to make vision stick by casting the vision well, celebrating the vision well, and living the vision well.

This week, I’d like to take on how leaders can identifying their burning vision.

“What Precedes Vision?”

In a 2005 talk at the Global Leadership Summit, bill Hybels provided his reflections on “The Leader’s State of Mind.” The focus of Hybels’ speech was engaging the following important questions:

  • What precedes vision?”
  • What gives birth to vision?”

Most leaders understand the importance of casting a vision for their people. Just yesterday I heard about a family company that spent a part of their day focusing on vision casting. As I sat in the stands at my girls’ high school basketball game this friend shared with me that the president of the family-owned company he works for spent a couple hours with employees sharing and talking about the implications of their company vision.

This work of vision casting is vital. When leaders have a vision, the advice shared last week is critical—cast the vision, celebrate the vision, live the vision.

But … how do leaders arrive at a vision for their team, division, or organization? Or, in the words of Hybels, “what gives birth to vision?”

Finding Your Burning Vision

What an important question to engage.

As Hybels discussed this he shared the example from the cartoon Popeye the Sailor man. When Olive was threatened, Popeye would get to a breaking point where he would say:

That’s all I can stand, and I canst stands no more.”

In many ways, this line captures the heart of what passionate leadership is about. Rather than simply having a functional and lackluster vision, visions that change businesses, organizations, and societies arise from “Popeye-like” passion that sees something and says, “That’s all I can stand, and I canst stands no more.”

“I Canst Stands No More”

So what in your life raises that type of passion? In Hybels’ words, “What can’t you stand?

This is the seed from which passionate vision often arises. When you consider your life, your leadership, your team, your organization, your work, your context for life, what in your life raises the response, “That’s all I can stand, and I canst stands no more?”

  • Is it the need to see students effectively engaging in learning in the K-12 environment?
  • Is it companies providing real value through effective research and product development?
  • Is it about your industry operating ethical standards?
  • Is it about working toward justice in some tangible way due to the needs of the oppressed or marginalized?
  • Is it about creating health rather than dysfunction in organizations?
  • Is it…?

Of course the list could go on to many other areas.

The key is to think through your life, your leadership, your context.

  • What bothers you?
  • What do you see that needs to be fixed?
  • What problems can you not stop thinking about and want to contribute toward a solution?

Living into Your Passion

Identifying your passion is the first step to identifying your burning vision. If this is not immediately clear to you, take some time in the week ahead to consider what it is that you “canst stands no more,” and then find a tangible way to live into this passion in your life. What first step can you take to consider a visionary response to this area of helpful discontentment?

The reality is, you will likely have multiple passions based on the multiple spheres of your life. Consider:

  • What is your burning vision for your team, business, or organization
  • What is your burning vision for your family?
  • What is your burning vision for your personal and professional life?

Although Popeye may not be the first “sage” we think of in identifying our passion and burning vision, it is a great metaphor to spur us on as we consider our burning vision and work to live into this vision with passion.

Next week we’ll take up some final vision reflections as we think through the visions we are meant to pursue in the year ahead.

As always, I love to hear your thoughts. Please share your reflections below.


Here are all of the post links for this series:

The Power of Vision, Part 2

vision_EladeManu

Photo Credit: vision, by EladeManu, Flickr

I’m in a mini-series focused on the power of vision.

Last week I provided my definition of vision as a picture of a preferred future, and described the major work of leaders as communicating this picture of a preferred future in a manner that is compelling and unifying (see Part 1).

This week I want to take some time to engage why vision is so powerful.

Visioneering

In his book, Visioneering, Andy Stanley makes the following observation:

Too many times the routines of life begin to feel like shoveling dirt. But take those same routines, those same responsibilities, and view them through the lens of vision and everything looks different. Vision brings your world into focus. Vision brings order to chaos. A clear vision enables you to see everything differently.”

What Vision Provides

Building on these observations, Stanley notes that vision helps to weave four things into the fabric of our daily lives:

Passion

Vision evokes passion…. A clear, focused vision actually allows us to experience ahead of time the emotions associated with our anticipated future.

Motivation

Vision provides motivation. The mundane begins to matter. The details, chores, and routines of life become a worthwhile means to a planned–for end.

Direction

[Vision] serves as a road map…. Vision simplifies decisions making…. Vision empowers you to move purposefully in a predetermined direction.”

Purpose

Vision translates into purpose. A vision gives you a reason to get up in the morning…. Purpose carries with it the momentum to move you through the barriers that would otherwise slow you down and trip you up.”

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As you look to a picture of a preferred future for your life and organization, how is this work of “visioneering” (or vision casting) providing passion, motivation, direction, and purpose for you? In what ways has vision helped to provide clarity and focus to your life and leadership?


Here are all of the post links for this series:

Taking the Next Step — How to Improve Individuals and Organizations

Photo by Justin Irving; new Vikings Stadium in process.

Photo by Justin A. Irving; new Vikings Stadium in process.

One of my favorite quotes from W. Edwards Deming is “Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.” What a great reminder. And, this helpful reminder raises a key question: What are your results telling you?

Deming is a key figure in operations management and the pursuit of continuous improvement within operational systems. Management theories like Total Quality Management (TQM) and beyond have been significantly shaped by Deming’s key principles. While Deming’s work is primarily designed for macro operational settings, the lessons are helpful for both organizations and individuals. What are your results telling you organizationally? What are your results telling you individually?

Here are a few highlights from Deming I offer for your consideration

Deming’s 14 Key Principles

Deming is known for 14 Key Principles in his approach to management. I will not review all of these here since they get into specific dimensions of organizational operations. However, here are a few high points of these principles from Deming’s book Out of the Crisis.

  1. Prioritizing the Creation of Constancy of Purpose: “Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.” Improvement at the organizational and individual level does not come by constantly changing focus. Deming’s first point reminds us of the importance of staying the course, remaining focused, and keeping our aims before us. Are you constantly changing your aims, or are you maintaining constancy of purpose and staying focused on what matters most?
  2. Committing to Improve Constantly: “Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.” Whether at the organizational or individual level, what problems or challenges exist in the system? If “your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting,” then what problems need to be addressed and are you asking this question regularly?
  3. Taking Action toward Transformation: “Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.” If, as noted above, we have identified the problems holding us back, then it is time for action based on these identified problems. Deming’s final point is a call to action. If at an organizational level, this means focusing everyone’s attention on the problems that need to be addressed and the transformation that is desired. If at an individual level, this translates into prioritizing desired outcomes and shaping our decisions and actions toward this desired transformation.

Deming’s Wheel (P.D.C.A.)

Deming's Wheel

In addition to Deming’s 14 Key Principles, another helpful lesson from Deming’s thinking is Deming’s Wheel. Deming’s Wheel is a four stage process focused on (1) planning, (2) doing, (3) checking, and (4) acting, and helps to simplify core steps along a path of continuous improvement.

  • Plan: Plan an improvement
  • Do: Do the activity planned
  • Check: Check the results of this activity
  • Act: Act on these results in order to make future improvements

Whether at the organizational or individual level, Deming’s Wheel of PlanDoCheckAct provides a memorable model for engaging in continuous improvement. Consider what transformation you desire in your life or in your organization. (1) Make plans for an improvement. (2) Do the planned activity toward this improvement. (3) Check the results of the activity you did. (4) Act/Revise your future planning based on the observed results.

Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.” What are your results telling you? Perhaps Deming’s approach to continuous improvement will provide you with some practical insights on how to take the next step toward improvement both organizationally and individually. It’s time to Plan – DoCheckAct.

Where to Look for Better Performance in Your Work

"Here's looking at you, kid" - Jaskirat Singh Bawa, Flickr

Photo Credit: “Here’s looking at you, kid” – Jaskirat Singh Bawa, Flickr

I read about a unique and interesting study recently. The primary aim of the study was examining the impact of various combinations of employees and customers seeing or not seeing each other while work is performed and how these combinations affect customer satisfaction with the product provided.

An Eye on Cooks and Diners

Researchers Ryan Buell and Tami Kim set up scenarios in a live cafeteria environment:

  • Scenario One: Cooks and diners not in view of one another
  • Scenario Two: Diners only could view cooks
  • Scenario Three: Cooks only could view diners
  • Scenario Four: Diners and cooks both in view of one another

In each of these scenarios, diners would rate the quality of the food. The key finding in this study was that cooks who could view diners while preparing their customer’s food had the highest food quality ratings.

The Extra Ingredient in the Recipe of Work

Of this finding, Buell notes:

“We’ve learned that seeing the customer can make employees feel more appreciated, more satisfied with their jobs, and more willing to exert effort. It’s important to note that it wasn’t just the perception of quality that improved—the food objectively got better.”

Though not difficult to understand, this is a powerful finding from a unique study.

Who Are You Serving through Your Work

Most readers likely will not identify with the specifics of the cook-diner relationship. But all of us can think about the people we serve through our work, whether we are paid or not. Who are the customers, students, members, friends, family, and colleagues who benefit from our work?

The takeaway is the importance of focusing on these people while we work. And, if at all possible, to create an environment where we can regularly see those we serve through our work.

Keeping Your Eye on Your Customer

If you care about adding value to the lives of your customers—those you serve—find ways to keep these people in mind and in view while you do your work. Buell and Kim’s research suggests that you will perform best and provide the best products and services when you do.

Keep your eyes on the people you serve!

Leader Resiliency … Face Reality, Find Meaning, Forge a New Path

by Arya Aiai, Flickr

Photo Credit: Image by Arya Aiai, Flickr

One of my areas of research is examining the role of resiliency in leadership. Here’s a link to an overview of one of my recent academic articles focused on the role that obstacles and resiliency play in the development of leaders (Management Research Review, Vol. 37, Iss. 5, pp.466 – 478).

In our research, we found that a variety of developmental assignments, relationships, experiences, and training were associated with increased levels of leader resiliency. Often, these developmental variables take the form of personal and professional obstacles that build resiliency in leaders.

What is Resiliency

Resiliency is about the capacity to bounce back after difficulty. Resiliency is about the capacity to persist through and overcome diverse challenges in life and leadership.

In this day and age, resiliency is increasingly important for leaders. Our world abounds with uncertainty, and it is individuals and leaders who are able to bounce back and make the best of difficult circumstances who will thrive in the days and years ahead. This is what resiliency is all about—persisting, or even thriving, in the midst of difficulty.

How Resiliency Works

Engaging the theme of How Resilience Works, Diane Couto argues that resilient people possess three defining characteristics.

  1. Resilient People Face Down Reality: “…coolly accept the harsh realities facing them.”
  2. Resilient People Search for Meaning: “…find meaning in terrible times.”
  3. Resilient People Continually Improvise: “…have an uncanny ability to improvise, making do with whatever’s at hand.”

These characteristics are vital for leaders today. Facing down reality means accepting the harsh realities and facts in front of us, but doing so in a way that finds meaning and purpose in the chaos.

The Stockdale Paradox

Jim Collins referred to this tension between facts and faith as “The Stockdale Paradox.” The Stockdale paradox, named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, is based on the observation that those who survived in the most difficult of circumstances (such as prisoners of war) do so by both confronting the most brutal facts of one’s current reality AND retaining faith that one will prevail in the end. It is not merely choosing optimism OR pessimism—it is the experience of embracing BOTH difficult facts along side optimistic hope.

Brakes Break for a Reason”

My wife took me to a movie last night entitled The Hundred-Foot Journey. It is the story of the Kadam family who left India for a new life in France. As the story unfolds, this new life begins in a French village due to their vehicle breaking down. Overlooking this village, and through the events that follow, the family embraces their reality that “Brakes break for a reason.” Through embracing the reality in front of them, the Kadam family finds meaning in the moment and forges a new and hopeful future for their family.

It was a beautiful movie, and in a simple way depicts this tension between facing down reality and finding meaning in the midst of reality.

Purpose in Leadership

This tension is one of the reasons I’m passionate about “Purpose in Leadership.” Leaders who are able to make sense of the world around them—to find meaning in the face of the mess—often are characterized by a resiliency that allows them and their organizations to thrive in the midst of great difficulty.

Creative Improvisation

This blend of finding meaning in the face of reality sets the stage for Couto’s final observation—the ability to improvise and make do with what is at hand. Resilient leaders face reality from a place of purpose and meaning, and from this place engage the resources around them (human, physical, structural, financial, etc.) to resolutely move forward toward their driving purpose.

Because the future is always being created as we go, leaders learn to improvise along the way. They respond to the needs around them. They collaborate with the people and resources at hand. They find unique and creative pathways forward to accomplish their goals in new ways.

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How are these characteristics of resilient people at work in your life? Are you nurturing this capacity to (1) face reality, (2) find meaning, and (3) forge a path forward through creative improvisation?

Assessing Leadership — The Purpose in Leadership Inventory

Researching, Steve Hanna, Flickr

Photo Credit: Researching, by Steve Hanna, Flickr

The inaugural edition of the journal Servant Leadership: Theory and Practice came out at the end of August. I’m grateful to have an article included in the August 2014 issue of the journal. My article is focused on the development and initial testing of what I’m calling The Purpose in Leadership Inventory.

In this brief post, I’m providing a link to the full article followed by a brief overview of what leadership variables are measured by the instrument.

The Development and Initial Testing of the Purpose in Leadership Inventory:
A Tool for Assessing Leader Goal-Orientation, Follower-Focus, and Purpose-in-Leadership

Why Was the PLI Created?

The Purpose in Leadership Inventory (PLI) was created for two audiences.

Leadership Researchers: First, the PLI is designed for researchers in the field of leadership studies. Developing new instruments to measure leadership variables is one of the keys to ongoing advancement of the field. As the field of leadership studies has grown throughout the last century, noticeable shifts are occurring. The PLI is designed to capture some of these shifts, and help researchers understand which leadership factors are associated with effectiveness in diverse organizational contexts.

Leadership Practitioners: Second, the PLI is designed for engaged leadership practitioners who desire to study the place of goal-orientation, follower-focus, and purpose-in-leadership within their organizations and leadership practice. Diverse leaders approach leadership differently. The PLI allows leaders to gain insight into how followers perceive their leadership around these vital variables.

What Does the PLI Measure?

As mentioned above, the PLI measure three core leadership variables. These are:

  • Goal Orientation
  • Follower Focus
  • Purpose in Leadership

The first two capture variables highlighted in a previous post: People or Production — Getting Things Done while Caring for People. A focus on accomplishing goals and getting things done is important for leaders. Equally import is a focus on caring for followers. Goal orientation and follower focus are the first two variables measured by the PLI.

The third variable is the significant addition to the leadership research stream. This variable is Purpose in Leadership. Purpose in leadership as a variable is based on the work of individuals such as Paul Wong who focus on meaning-centered approaches to leadership and management. These approaches take seriously the leaders’ sense of meaning and purpose.

Why Does this Matter?

The more I engage in leadership research, the more I’m convinced that purpose matters. Leaders who have a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives as leaders add value to their organizations. Such leaders help the members of the community understand that their work and organizational outcomes actually make a difference in the world.

As leader-centered models of the 20th century have been modified by more recent approaches such as transformational and servant leadership, the opportunity to reflect on the deeper meaning and purpose in leadership has emerged. The PLI is a tool to help leadership practitioners and researchers investigate the priority of these leadership variables.

I’m looking forward to seeing the additional research that will emerge through the Purpose in Leadership Inventory.

Manage with Realism — Lead with Optimism

Hope_Darren-Tunnicliff

Photo Credit: Hope, by Darren Tunnicliff, Fllickr

Hope…

People and organizations thrive on hope and optimism. Hope helps to orient people toward the future and inspire hearts and minds to action. Optimists choose to see the proverbial half glass full, and look for opportunities with a spirit of positivity.

Regarding optimism, Winston Churchill noted: “For myself, I am an optimist—it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” Similarly, Churchill declared: “An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.”

Biblical authors also point to the power of hope noting that because of the love of God “hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5).

Hope is powerful. It holds a vital place in the life of organizations and the work of leadership. But hope alone is not enough. Hope and optimism must be blended with realism for leaders and managers.

One of my guiding leadership principles is this: Manage with Realism—Lead with Optimism.

Manage with Realism

Pessimism is exhausting. Always seeing the glass half empty and only looking at problems drains life from people and organizations.

But realism is an alternative that need not be pessimistic. Organizations benefit from managerial attention to details. Engagement with detail is best carried out from a place of realism—engagement with real strengths, real weaknesses, real opportunities, and real threats (…a “SWOT” analysis with realism). Healthy leaders and managers do not avoid reality, they face it. Healthy leaders and managers need to manage with realism.

Lead with Optimism

The story does not end with facing reality and managing with realism. Leaders and managers also need to inspire hope and optimism in the hearts and minds of people. Leaders and managers need to manage with realism and lead with optimism.

Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is a light despite all of the darkness.” Managing with realism is not the end of the story. Leaders help their people see light in the darkness and hope in the midst of reality by leading with optimism.

As Helen Keller noted, “optimism is the faith that leads to achievement,” and “nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” To inspire our people toward achievement, leaders must inspire with hope and optimism.

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Rather viewing realism and optimism as being at odds, organizational success depends upon leaders and managers attending to both. How are you doing on these fronts? How is your organization doing? Are you managing with realism and leading with optimism?