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Sharing a Vision: Can You See What I See?

Tips and Techniques

Tips and Techniques

We know from continual research conducted around The Five Behaviors of Exemplary Leadership® that Inspire a Shared Vision is the least frequently observed Practice and the one that most often trips us up as we try to lead others. Thinking about why this is the case, it has occurred to me that we may be trying to think too big. When we try and communicate a vision that is too broad we may be losing our followers because they simply can’t “see” the big picture. Perhaps their field of view is just too limited. What can you do?

Last year, I stumbled upon a teambuilding activity that finally provided a way for me to help others overcome this limitation. It is called ZOOM, based on the book of the same title by Ishvan Banyai. The book shows a series of ever-expanding pictures, starting with a rooster and continually zooming out to show a wider perspective. As the field of view expands you realize that what you thought you were looking at is actually something else. It’s a simple and interesting phenomenon—and one I created the following activity to help demonstrate.

  • Current or emerging leaders 
  • A group of 25 to 31 is best (fewer or more can be accommodated) 

Time Required
A total of 45 minutes
  • Introduction 10 minutes 
  • Execution 20 minutes 
  • Debrief 15 minutes
  • One copy of the book Zoom by Ishvan Banyai (Viking Press, 1995) intact 
  • One copy with pages separated and laminated; mix up the pages so they are not in order and can easily be passed out 
Area Set up
Space large enough to accommodate the group standing in one line, shoulder-to-shoulder

Step 1: Introduction
  • Introduce the commitments and LPI® behaviors related to Inspire a Shared Vision. 
  • Explain that each participant will be given a page from the book featuring a specific image. Collectively, these pictures belong in a specific sequence that will ultimately tell a story—just like a vision. 
  • Remind the group that the images should not be shared. Rather, each participant will be required to verbally describe his or her picture to others in a compelling way so that the group can determine the correct order in which they should be displayed. 
  • Instruct the team that they will have 20 minutes to physically arrange themselves in the correct order, standing shoulder-to-shoulder around the room, to complete the story. 
Step 2: Execution
  • Ask everyone to move to the front of the room, or into an area with enough open space to accommodate the group and allow them to move around freely. 
  • Distribute one image per person in random order. Remind everyone to not show the image to anyone else. 
  • Quickly review the instructions discussed in the Introduction. Ask if there are any further questions. 
  • Start the clock at 20 minutes. Periodically remind the group of the time remaining to increase the sense of urgency. 
  • Watch the group as they interact, noting specific behaviors and observations that can be incorporated into your debrief. 
  • Continue the exercise until the group thinks it has the images in the correct order or until time has expired. If necessary, give the team an extra 2 minutes to get in the best order they can. Instruct them to stand in one line (shoulder-to-shoulder) in the proper order to tell the story. 
  • Once the group determines it is in the best order possible, go down the line and instruct each participant to share his or her image with the team, facilitating a discussion about how the group’s order of the images compares to the intact book. 
Facilitator Notes:
Group Size: 31 is the ideal group size for the exercise, but it can be facilitated with more or less. If there are more than 31 in the group, have additional participants find a partner to work with, or ask them to act as observers looking for leadership behaviors. If fewer than 31, remove the appropriate number of pages from the book to accommodate the group size; be sure to retain those needed to facilitate a solution. Four pages that can be removed and still execute this activity successfully are 9, 21, 28, 30.

Jump-start the Process: If the group is really struggling, you may want to reveal the very first image (as detailed in the book) to get them started.

Step 3: Debrief
Consider what happened within the group as this activity began to unfold. Typically groups will start to divide into smaller factions, based on common themes represented in the pictures. And once the complete story is revealed, it is easy to see how these “cliques” formed. It also typically becomes clear that the folks at the beginning of the line (the start of the story) have no idea what’s going on in the middle, or at the end.

Sound familiar? Do we create the same issue-of only seeing a small segment of the whole story--by dividing our organizations into departments, teams, shifts, etc? Do we create different visions for each distinct level? Do we undermine our desire to Inspire a Shared Vision when we create silos that prevent open communication and a common language around values and purpose? How could someone in operations have the same perspective or field of view as someone in sales? Is the field of view for the CEO so broad that he cannot “see” what is happening on the ground? Facilitate a group discussion around these issues.

In addition, consider helping the group explore any or all of the following questions:
  • What were the challenges you faced in this activity? 
  • How did you overcome them? • What observable leadership behaviors did you see? 
  • How can this activity prepare you to Inspire a Shared Vision? 
  • What evidence of The Five Practices did you experience? 
Another option to consider is to specifically focus your discussion on the following LPI leadership behaviors as you help your leaders explore ways to improve the frequency with which they practice:
LPI Item #7   I describe a compelling image of what our future could be like.
LPI Item #17 I show others how their long term interests can be realized by enlisting in a common vision.
LPI Item #22 I paint the “big picture” of what we aspire to accomplish

Steve Skarke, a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge, is president of The Kaneka Foundation and creator of Leading Elements™. As an “Organizational Engineer” Steve supports the development of internal and external clients through facilitation and coaching activities. A 30-year veteran in the manufacturing industry, he can be reached at



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