Crafting an Inspiring Vision to Drive Change

Michael Neiss

In my sessions with managers and leaders, I often ask attendees how much of their time they set aside during the previous week to think about and plan for their area of responsibility—three years out. After the nervous chuckles subside, it is clear that very few value long-term visioning over the demands for short-term results. Yet, in today's turbulent business world, vision or purpose is critical to driving the change necessary for excellence.

For instance, most of my clients identify innovation as a key strategy necessary for them to excel in their business. At the same time they often admit that they fall short in creating real innovation, citing historic practices and structure as the key barriers. To become innovative, substantial change is required. And that's where Inspiring a Shared Vision-one of the essential Five Practices-applies.

A powerful and compelling vision, delivered in an inspiring manner, is necessary to thaw out an organization's entrenched practices and drive the necessary changes in systems, and even, the culture. A great vision provides the courage necessary to change. It engages the discretionary efforts of the team. And most importantly, once it becomes shared, a great vision provides the determination and discipline to actually implement change.

Facilitators provide a great service to workshop participants and the sponsoring organization by setting aside sufficient time for attendees to complete a written draft of their vision statement. It takes time to help participants move beyond the initial tendency to state their vision as a three-year business plan full of metrics and, instead, actually breathe enough life into their vision to create a compelling picture of the possibilities.

For many workshop attendees, functioning in business environments that place the highest priority on execution and operational excellence, the need for a statement of ennobling possibilities can be seen as a 'nice-to-do,' not a 'must-do.' What is missed here is the simple dynamic that people execute when they are passionate about building something together that makes a difference.

Although time is always at a premium in workshops, the feedback I have received continues to confirm that creating an inspiring vision is the most useful takeaway for participants.

Max DePree, past CEO of my client Herman Miller, Inc. said it well, "Management has a lot to do with answers. Leadership is a function of questions. And the first question for a leader always is: 'Who do we intend to be?' Not 'What are we going to do?' but 'Who do we intend to be?'" The leadership journey often begins with answering that question.

Michael Neiss is a 25-year veteran in corporate management, OD and HR, and leadership consulting. A Master Facilitator of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop, he can be reached at mike@michaelneiss.com.

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