The Power of Vision, Part 5

Visions-of-Color_Joe-Dyndale

Photo Credit: Visions of Color, by Joe Dyndale, Flickr

I’m in a mini-series focused on the power of vision. Here’s a snapshot of where we’ve been in the series:

  • 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.
  • In Part 4, I engaged how leaders can identify their burning passion and compelling vision.

This week, I’d like to provide a final encouragement as you consider the vision you are meant to pursue in the year ahead.

Looking to Your Future

As I write this post, New Year’s Day is just around the corner. In many ways, the start of a new year provides an opportunity for us to do what we should be regularly doing throughout the year—looking to the future and planning in light of it.

As you look out the future, what is the picture of a preferred future both for you and your organization?

First, what does this preferred future look like both personally and professionally?

  • Personally: What is your personal vision … for you, your family, and your community in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead?
  • Professionally: What is your professional or organizational vision … for you and the community you serve in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead?

Second, what does this future look like at different points along the way on the journey toward your preferred future?

  • What does it look like weeks in the future?
  • What does it look like months in the future?
  • What does it look like years in the future?

Developing a Strategy for Visionary Planning

Weekly Carve out 15 minutes at the beginning of each week in order to prioritize your schedule and insure you are working toward your preferred future.
Monthly Carve out 2 hours to evaluate the previous month and then plan for the coming month in light of your visionary priorities.
Quarterly Carve out a day (workday length) in order to evaluate progress in light of your personal and professional vision. Use this evaluation to make adjustments for the coming 2-3 months.
Annually Carve out a 1-2 day retreat (getting away to a hotel, cabin, or retreat center) where you can have focused time not only evaluating the past year, but also reevaluating your overall visionary priorities. This is an annual time to insure that the direction of your life and leadership is moving toward a preferred future in light of the things that matter most in life.
Seasonally (each 5-7 years) Carve out a week or more every 5-7 years for a season of deep rest, refreshment, and renewal. This is not about simply taking a vacation—something that likely happens every year—but rather taking a genuine sabbatical from the normal routines of life. Some professions may allow for this seasonal time to be multiple months of rest, refreshment, and renewal. For other professions and work contexts, this seasonal time may be limited to a typical vacation week. In either case, find a path for intentional reflection on the trajectory of your life and leadership.

Have you seen tangible progress toward major visionary dreams you had 5 to 7 years earlier (degrees you wanted to complete, job changes you wanted to pursue, organizational goals you wanted to accomplish, etc.)?

As you look out into the next 5 to 7 years of your life and leadership, what are your major visionary priorities for the years ahead? What course corrections need to be made now to help navigate toward this preferred future? How can you adjust your schedule, budget, and general pace of life to make space for prioritizing movement toward this preferred future?

Engaging major life questions like this takes time and space for rest, renewal, and reflection. Take time not only for vacation and recreation, but also for sabbatical in order to tackle such visionary reflection and dreaming in your life.

 Vision: the Tool for Leading from the Front

Whether thinking of vision personally, professionally, or organizationally, vision is a powerful tool for your life and leadership.

Engaging the power of vision in leadership, Burt Nanus shares these thoughtful insights:

Vision is the main tool leaders use to lead from the front.
Effective leaders don’t push or production their followers. They don’t boss them around or manipulate them. They are out front showing the way. The vision allows leaders to inspire, attract, align, and energize their followers—to empower them by encouraging them to become part of a common enterprise dedicated to achieving the vision.

Rather than simply using push and production techniques, as leaders we need to learn to lead from the front. Vision provides the essential tool for moving from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation. Vision provides the path for painting a picture of a hopeful future that motives us personally and others organizationally. As Nanus notes, “Vision is the main tool leaders use to lead from the front.”

Taking Your Next Visionary Steps

As you look to your future, the key is to pay attention and make changes based on this visionary reflection. In the week ahead, I encourage you to take some time to pay attention to your preferred future (your vision), and begin to take steps toward this preferred future in practical, tangible, and meaningful ways.

God’s best to each of you as you make strides toward the things that matter most in your life.


Here are all of the post links for this series:

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:

Leading on Gratitude Road

Gratitude Road, by Bart Maguire, Flickr

Gratitude Road, by Bart Maguire, Flickr

This past week I had the opportunity to share briefly in a chapel service at our school. The theme was thankfulness and gratitude. Whether in the Thanksgiving season or beyond, learning the art of gratitude is important for leaders and followers alike.

The Good and the Bad of Future Focus

But nurturing a spirit of gratitude comes more naturally for some.

As I consider my personal tendencies and strengths, one of the tendencies that can work against a spirit of gratitude is an orientation toward the future.

Future focus has many benefits. As leaders, a focus on the future is important for planning and strategic thinking. I take up the importance of this theme in another post (see Strategic Foresight).

But future focus has a down side as well. At times, this future orientation can work against nurturing a spirit of gratitude. Sometimes gratitude and thanksgiving are not primarily about looking to the future, but rather reflecting on the past and being present in the moment.

Thankfulness through Remembering

The Bible affirms the value of remembering throughout the pages of Scripture. Remembering what God has done in your life and in the lives of those around you is often the seedbed from which thanksgiving and gratitude arise.

One example of this is in Psalm 105 where the author calls the reader to give thanks to God by remembering well:

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name….
Remember the wondrous works that he has done

(Psalm 105: 1 & 5).

If you are like many leaders, it is easy to have your sights set on the future and where your team and organization are headed. But are you taking time to pause for gratitude? Are you taking time to pause and be present in the moment and to look to the past with thankfulness?

Walking Down Gratitude Road

As you consider nurturing a spirit of gratitude, perhaps you may need to join with me in taking time to pause and look at the present and the past. In this act we have the opportunity to see the faithfulness of God in our lives. As we look back and remember well, we begin to see that through both the joy-filled and difficult days, we have much for which to be thankful.

I hope you will be able to take some time in this season to nurture a spirit of gratitude in your life and leadership. Learn to remember well; learn to remember with gratitude.

David Brooks on Vocation and Making Commitments

The Graduates, by Luftphilia, Flickr

The Graduates, by Luftphilia, Flickr

I spent some time today reading a commencement address by David Brooks to the Dartmouth Class of 2015 entitled “The Ultimate Spoiler Alert.”

In it, Brooks sought to provide a picture of what the decades of life beyond college will look like for these graduates and presented an argument that their “primary mission in life is to be really good at making commitments.”

The Importance of Commitments

On this point, Brooks notes:

“Making commitments sounds intimidating, but it’s not.
Making a commitment simply means falling in love with something,
and then building a structure of behavior around it
that will carry you through when your love falters.”

What a powerful observation about the nature of commitments.

Brooks goes on to argue that these students will end up needing to make four major commitments in their life. A commitment to:

  1. Their spouse and family,
  2. A career and a vocation,
  3. Their faith or philosophy, and
  4. A community and a village.

Though it would be great to engage any of these commitments, I’d like to focus on Brooks’ observations around the commitment to a career and a vocation.

Vocation is Something that Summons You

Brooks’ provides a thoughtful comment regarding the difference between a vocation and a career. He notes: “A vocation is not a career. A career is something you choose. A vocation is something that summons you.”

That’s not always the way people think of vocational discernment; personal choice is often the point emphasized.

But Brooks sees vocation as more of something that calls from outside of us rather than arises from within by simple personal choice. Explaining further, Brooks continues:

“People with vocations don’t ask: What do I want from life? They ask: What is life demanding me to do? What gap is there in my specific circumstances around me that demands my skill set?

It’s not found by looking inside you for your passion. People have studied this. Eighty percent of you don’t have a passion. It’s found by looking outward, by being sensitive to a void and need, and then answering the chance to be of use.”

Looking Outside to Find an Opportunity to Provide Value

If Brooks’ observations are accurate and vocation is found by looking outside, this calls for answering a few key questions:

  • Are you paying attention to your surroundings?
  • Are you being sensitive to the voids and needs around you?
  • Are you responding to the opportunities to be of use?

In business, people understand the priority of providing value. Rather than asking “what do I want to do in life?” the more fulfilling line of inquiry is “what is the vocational path on which I may contribute the most or best value to those around me?”

In other words, vocational fulfillment is not just an individual pursuit. Vocational fulfillment is found within the context of community. At each stage of life ask: “Am I looking outward to see how I may be used to provide meaning and value to those around me through my vocation and service?

God’s wisdom to each of you as you engage such significant questions and pursue the vocational path that lies before you at each life stage.

Are You Able to Lead with Clarity and Calmness?

Communication, by Paul Shanks, Flickr

Communication, by Paul Shanks, Flickr

One of the “tweetable” leadership thoughts I like to share often is the following:

Followers need clarity and calmness in challenging times.
Provide authenticity and a non-anxious presence for those you lead.

There is actually a lot of thought, and research, that goes behind this call for clarity, calmness, and a non-anxious presence. Some of this research may be found in an article a colleague and I have published in the academic journal Management Research Review. If you don’t have access to this journal, you may find another discussion of the research directly here through the American Society of Business and Behavioral Sciences.

In the face of challenging times, followers need clarity, calmness, authenticity, and a non-anxious presence from their leaders.

What do I mean by this? I’ll use some quick points of contrast to explain.

This Type of Leadership IS NOT About:

  • Leaders “having it all together,”
  • Leaders pretending to have all the answers, or
  • Leaders being overly controlling.

This Type of Leadership IS About:

  • Leaders being calm… engaging with a non-anxious presence,
  • Leaders providing followers with clarity … being clear and authentic with what can be shared, and
  • Leaders guiding with conviction … leading with moral resolve and fortitude.

“Self-Differentiation”

In the study noted above, we found that leader resiliency was associated with a social science construct called self-differentiation. Self-differentiated leaders are able to maintain a non-anxious presence in the face of what often raises anxiety for others.

The reality is those who lead in the manner described in this post face challenges just like any other leader. The difference is in how they respond.

Responding with Clarity and Calmness

Rather than letting circumstances dictate their demeanor, self-differentiated leaders find a way to recognize the challenging realities and then approach these realities in a calm and non-anxious manner.

I don’t know about you, but I love to work for and follow leaders like this. I also desire to provide such leadership for others as I’m able.

So what about you? Are you able and willing to lead with clarity and calmness? Remember:

Followers need clarity and calmness in challenging times.
Provide authenticity and a non-anxious presence for those you lead!

Observations from an Overwhelming Week

Stress, by Environmental Illness Net..., Flickr

Stress, by Environmental Illness Net…, Flickr

Life can feel quite overwhelming at times. This past week felt like this for me. Perhaps you can identify.

In light of my week, I’m going to take a bit more of an autobiographical approach to this post.

My week was not overwhelming due to a massive crisis hitting my life, though there are plenty of crises hitting our world these days. In fact, most of the various items hitting the schedule were extremely enjoyable taken individually. The overwhelming feeling simply came as the normal flow of life built up and a few added curveballs were thrown into the mix.

I’m sure you have your own list of ordinary and normal flow of life items, but here are a few of mine from both the professional and personal levels:

Professional

  • Preparing class lectures
  • Meetings with students
  • Teaching classes
  • Grading papers
  • Recording lectures for online students
  • Participating in administrative meetings and attending to administrative needs for our school

Personal

  • Spending time as a family
  • Enjoying a date with my wife
  • Attending a friend’s wedding
  • Engaging with our community group at church
  • Teaching a Sunday school class
  • Spending time in the minivan with my daughter who is learning to drive
  • Watching my daughter’s high school soccer game
  • Helping coach my son’s football team with multiple games and practices
  • Helping with the normal flow of house work

Navigating the Curveballs

I’m a bit tired just typing out this list of normal flow of life activities! I know you have your own list as well.

For me, this list shifted from normal flow to overwhelming when spending time working on two vehicles needing maintenance — one vehicle that was outsourced to a professional and one vehicle with work I did myself. Oh, and I lost my wallet as well!

You get the idea. We all have our normal flow of life activities, and then the occasional week comes along that throws us a curveball. My curveballs this week were vehicle repairs and a lost wallet. Your curveball likely was something else.

Working Hard from Passion rather than Stress

In the midst of this slightly crazy, and wonderful, week, I landed on a delightful quote from Simon Sinek:

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress;
working hard for something we love is called passion.”
– Simon Sinek

With the exception of the vehicle maintenance and calling credit card companies to report lost cards, as I look back on this past week, a vast majority of everything with which I engaged thankfully fell into the passion category. Although I hope to avoid such a busy week as I move into another, I’m grateful that even when the work feels hard, it still feels meaningful.

May you find work in the week ahead that draws out passion rather than stress for you!

I’ll be aiming for this sweet spot as well.

BUSY = The Enemy of Strategic Leadership

Strategy, Stefan Erschwendner, Flickr

Strategy, Stefan Erschwendner, Flickr

Leaders vs. Managers

The work of managers and leaders is different (See my previous post on key distinctions of leadership and management here). In larger organizations, some roles have the luxury of focusing on one or the other. Increasingly, organizations are looking to individuals to fulfill both roles within the same position.

Individuals are being ask to consider both giving direction (a leadership function) to their team and organizational unit and also guiding processes with efficiency of execution (a managerial function). Drawing on John Kotter and others, here are some key difference between leadership and management.

Leadership is about Doing the Right Thing by:

  • Direction Setting
  • Aligning
  • Motivating

Management is about Doing Things Right by:

  • Planning and Budgeting
  • Organizing and Staffing
  • Controlling and Problem-Solving

Vision, Strategy, & Goals

Both “Doing the Right Thing” (leadership effectiveness) and “Doing Things Right” (managerial efficiency) are vital in organizations. While both of these activities require time and attention, and busyness can be the enemy of both healthy leadership and management, perpetual busyness is especially the enemy of the leadership function of direction setting.

Time is required for setting direction as a strategic leader. It requires time to think. It requires time to reflect.

Healthy organizational vision, organizational strategy, and organizational goals come best to those who pull back from busyness for intentional time to think and reflect.

Identifying the Right Strategy

The issue is not whether or not your organization has a strategy. The issue is whether or not you have the right strategy. Leaders must continually be asking whether or not they are focused on the right things for their organization.

While strategic questions may be asked in seasons of busyness, thoughtful answers to these questions often only come when enough mental bandwidth is freed up in the life of leaders. Strategic insights come most often when there is intentional space to think and reflect.

Hard Work vs. Busy Work

Certainly hard work is core to successful organizations. Organizations thrive when talented members pull together with conscientious, attentive, and coordinated work.

But hard work and busy work are not the same thing. Busy work is not necessarily the hard work that your organization needs. As I share in another post, make sure that you Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress (see related post here). It is possible to be busy and not be effective.

The Work of Leaders = Time for Thought and Reflection

So what is the Hard Work to which leaders must devote their time?

One answer to this is to engage in the work of thought and reflection. This seems simple, but actually there are many factors that often work against this strategic priority for leader time management. Demanding schedules, organizational fires that need to be addressed, requests for time and attention, and just general busyness can work against this “simple” leadership agenda. In response to such demands, it is all too easy for leaders choose busy work over hard work.

Over time, in the face of such realities organizations often create a work climate that validates busy. This validation is rooted in the belief that busy = hard work, and that hard work = organizational performance. While it sometimes works this way, often we are making assumptions that are not accurate.

Sometimes working smarter rather than just working harder requires a different pace—a pace that provides space for the leadership work of thought and reflection. So how are you making time for this vital work of strategic leadership?

Making Time for the Work of Strategic Leadership

Leaders must make time for the work of strategic leadership. This is especially important because the cultures of our organizations are often working against finding this time. It doesn’t just happen—leaders must make time for this vital work.

Some of the most effective public leaders have made time for this work. Warren Buffett is known for insisting on time to just sit and think almost every day. Bill Gates was known for taking a full week off twice a year in order to think and reflect about the strategic needs of Microsoft.

7 Questions for Leaders Engaging the Work of Strategic Leadership

  1. Are we staying focused on what matters most?
  2. What is changing around us that requires a strategic course correction?
  3. What are we doing that needs to be ended or scaled back?
  4. What are we doing that needs to be continued or scaled up?
  5. What are we doing that needs to be improved or strengthened?
  6. What is missing? What are we not doing that needs to be introduced?
  7. What’s next? What is our next top priority for strategic focus?

Taking Time for the Work of Strategic Leadership

The work of strategic leadership is vital for organizational health and effectiveness. Are you too busy for strategic leadership, or are you making time and setting busyness aside for this essential leadership work?

Find some time in the next month to step back from the busy pace of leadership so that you may engage these 7 questions in the work of strategic leadership.

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For additional reading on strategy and leadership see Strategic Foresight: The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership