Having a shared vision in your organization is a powerful tool to create clarity around the goals or outcomes that you want to achieve. Gaining alignment with all the people involved is a way to energize them towards that goal.
Why Shared Vision?
Why do people want to create a shared vision? Here are a few common reasons.
When there’s a shared vision that people are connected with, everyone moves towards that vision in a very powerful way. It also frees the leader from having to give a lot of direction and guidance because everyone knows the star on the horizon. If you think about Steve Jobs, one of the great things he did was to have a really clear picture of what they wanted to create as a company, so that people on their own, sitting at their desks, could figure out what it was they needed to do.
In many organizations, people don’t really care about what’s happening – they’re not motivated or energized. Often, leaders think that if they have a shared vision, they’re on the way to having inspired workers who have a sense of what to do and are passionately coming to work. And while shared vision is a part of that, there’s much more to that story as well (we’ll cover that below).
The other reason people want a shared vision is to get them to create a certain outcome. A vision is a movement towards something. A shared vision is a vehicle to create an energy or motion within an organizational system towards a specific outcome.
What Does Shared Vision Really Mean?
The phrase “shared vision” is made up of two words.
Vision – What it means
A vision is an image or a representation of the future. “Vision” implies, “We’re here today, and this is where we’re going.” You can think of vision as a sense of the future of our project or an organization, whatever the context or scope of the vision is. What’s interesting about a vision is, it’s more just a description of something, like “Our star on the horizon is X, Y, Z” or “We want to have an amazing product that delights our customers.” It’s an objective of a future state – a direction to grow or evolve in.
Shared – What it means
The other part of the phrase is the word “shared,” and this is where things get very interesting. A shared vision is a vision that is shared by the people. That much is obvious. So why on earth wouldn’t we just use the word “vision?” Why do we need the word “shared” in front of the word vision? Because most visions of an organization are not shared.
Too often, a leader says, “This is what we should be doing.” And then they try to sell, convince, and socialize their idea. These are the words that they’ll use to try to get everyone to buy into it. And that’s a very challenging way to create a shared vision. In fact, it’s almost impossible to create a shared vision by selling your vision.
How to Create a Shared Vision
There are two ways to create a shared vision.
How do you create a vision that’s actually shared by people? The most powerful way to get to a shared vision is through co-creation, where people are involved in creating the vision together. This could happen by running a group workshop, using social media tools, or any other way to involve people in the shaping of what that vision is. Using co-creation is the most powerful way to create a vision that’s truly shared.
Another, more rare, way of creating a shared vision is to have a very passionate leader who believes in something very strongly and invites others to join the movement. We can think of very inspiring leaders like Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela to get an idea of what this looks like. People who, because of their elevated consciousness, could invite people to join them on their path. Somebody who’s a visionary and has an elevated view with a purpose that can engage and inspire others.
Leadership Evolution Is Required
Either approach requires some level of growth or evolution in the mindset of the leaders, as well as learning some practical new skills. Creating a shared vision is a relatively easy target. The more challenging target is for the leaders themselves to go on their inner journey, to evolve themselves to such a point where they can inspire others to passionately embrace the vision. A leader who can let go of control enough so that the vision can be co-created with others. This is the ability to lead with the presence of their very being, there is no coercion or manipulation. This type of leadership is a transmission of the purpose and vision through a set of leadership qualities where people feel inspired to follow.
Bringing a Shared Vision to Life
Creating a shared vision is only the first step – bringing it to life is the bigger challenge. Until the shared vision is integrated into daily work, it’s just a fancy document or drawing. Here’s how to make it real.
Leaders Live the Vision
Even once you have a shared vision, it’s only as valuable as how well the leadership follows it. An anti-pattern for shared vision is having a shared vision that stands, however, leaders prioritize other things. They prioritize their own personal interests, they prioritize addressing their fears, they prioritize pet projects in place of the shared vision. And when that happens, the shared vision just falls apart.
The success pattern is that the leadership binds themselves fully and wholly to the shared vision. They are there in service of the vision. When leaders go first and put the purpose of the organization and its vision ahead of their own personal preferences and agenda, they act as a beacon to everyone that this shared vision matters.
This is actually a very tall order. Most leaders in organizations today are not used to putting the needs of the organization and serving the purpose ahead of their own personal interests. Even if a leader is able to successfully build a shared vision that people feel connected to, it will unravel and fall apart unless the leaders walk the talk and put the shared vision ahead of their own personal interests.
This requires a shift in consciousness and the evolution of the leaders themselves to work through the egoic structures that create attachments to their own identity and personal issues.
Vision Guides Day-to-Day Decisions
The moment the vision stops mattering in day-to-day decision-making is the day the vision dies. And there won’t be any announcement, there won’t be a big fanfare – it will die a swift and quiet death.
Let’s imagine the vision is to build a quality product. The moment in one meeting the leader in charge of the product says, “We just need to get it done for this date. We’re not going to worry about quality,” the vision for the quality product dies. It might be there in lip service only, there might be token nods towards it, but that vision will actually be dead, and no one will talk about it.
There are two honorable ways to depart from the vision without killing it. One is to say, “Hey, you know what, I realized our vision is not correct. In order for our company to survive, we actually need to do something completely different.” That would be an honorable way to thank the vision for serving us and then put it aside.
Another way is to say, “For a temporary measure, only for the next six weeks, we need to get this thing done. After that, we’re going to return to our vision. We’re going to take the next six weeks for X, after that we will restore the product to a quality product, but we just need to hit this one date. “I’m so sorry, this is not what I want to have happened, yet given all the other business constraints, it’s the best decision for us.” That would be a way to honor the vision, take a pause, and then come back to your journey.
But most leaders don’t do that. And in most cases, the vision dies a quiet, horrible death. That’s why it’s so important that the leaders honor and support the vision. There is also a subtle underlying or hidden integrity that becomes warped when the vision is not addressed. And this raises red flags for the workers and those who have bought into the vision, it takes away the trust and respect from the leadership.
A shared vision is essential for shared success. What I’ve experienced in working with many organizations is, greatness requires a deep level of alignment between people and a deep level of connection with the outcome. A shared vision guides those connected to it with a sense of purpose and an understanding of the “Why” and what they are working towards. A vision establishes a structure from which people can unlock better moment-by-moment decisions, as well as a frame through which to see the reality of what we’re doing in the workplace. It guides the question, “How do we want to be?”
A shared vision like this is one of the key signatures of greatness. The tragedy is that most people think they can create a shared vision by writing it down and declaring, “Oh, now it’s shared.” If you want to truly create a shared vision, it requires people co-creating, connecting and aligning at a deeper level.
Ultimately, creating a meaningful and impactful shared vision is a complex undertaking that requires the evolution of leadership to effectively bring the organization into alignment. It is a radically different way to use influence and leadership that inspires the overall approach to organizational change. Evolutionary Leadership provides not just the skills from an inner shift of mindset and behaviors, it is also the evolution of practical skills and interaction patterns to realize this goal.