Napoleon once remarked, “Leaders are dealers in hope.” Adapted to the corporate environment, this statement might read, “Vision is the faith by which the leader functions.”
Leadership vision is one of the major characteristics defining a leader’s identity and, in the end, reputation. Trust in one’s leader and his or her vision enhances positive leadership outcomes, including overall improved job performance, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment.
A leader should generate a vision similar to that which inspires his or her employees in terms of clarity, challenge, and future orientation and inspiration. Employees need to be encouraged to share the leader’s vision and use it to guide their daily operations. The leader should motivate and empower employees to pursue and attain the vision set before them.
The question employees typically find themselves asking when a leader begins to define and implement action steps to attain his or her visions is: “Can we trust you not to abuse the privilege of authority?”
Credibility as a leader ultimately depends upon perceived vision-related integrity—namely, keeping one’s word and commitment, not taking advantage of personal influence or authority, or manipulating employees into embracing the vision the leader wishes to attain.
Leaders able to maintain a persistent belief in their vision are further considered extremely competent by their employees and seen as a contributing resource rather than force to be opposed.
The depth and detail of a leader’s vision demonstrates his or her level of expertise. Expertise is needed for legitimacy, employee respect and making the vision a reality.
As leaders are involved in decision making all day long, the quality of their decisions is compounded over time. Effective leaders who stand by their personal vision generally make prompt, wise and accurate decisions, even under unimaginably difficult and confusing conditions and situations.
Having a higher level of expertise makes a leader become very pragmatic. The leader tends to see things in realistic terms, which helps to identify and develop strategies that are able to cut through to the core of problems and negative situations relatively quickly. This aids in quicker vision realization.
Expertise is acknowledged and respected when a leader effectively projects his or her vision by explaining to employees the purpose, meaning and significance.
In addition to demonstrating decisiveness and expertise, clearly defining the vision and adhering to it serves the leader by enhancing team performance, generating healthy conflict, and driving overall change.
Enhanced Team Performance
Defining a vision through clarifying roles, goals, and the way forward is a proven means of increasing team performance.
The quality of the relationships employees develop (and the people with whom they develop them) is influenced to a large degree by inward assumptions about their leader’s vision. When those assumptions are based on faulty generalizations, misunderstandings or misinterpretations, the quality of employee relationships suffers.
Factors that contribute to forming strong relationships across differences are affected by individual sets of experiences, beliefs and expectations. Vision has the power to generate positive experiences with others and realistic expectations of them. It helps to develop and maintain positive social identities through a process of molding individuals into a unified collaborative unit that shares the same beliefs, goals and outlooks.
In essence, if properly communicated and then embraced, vision positively shapes the way employees and leaders interact with one another. It helps to generate a type of “social identity” or a perception of oneness through shared and valued personal and work-related characteristics and goals.
Vision Generates Healthy Conflict
A visionary leader is often viewed as one who makes up his or her mind, then remains intractable and unmovable in direction and expectations. This perception tends to generate conflict and resistance.
The extent to which conflict emerges is dependent upon two factors: the strength of the visional expectation, or agreement between employees’ perceptions of the steps needed to attain the vision and the leader’s own expectations, and the outward attitudes, expressions, or behaviors the employee and leader display in embracing the vision and its directional courses of action.
When the two factors above are addressed, where persuasion and a sense of purpose and positive self-benefit are emphasized, feelings of harmony and balance typically replace levels of uncertainty, insecurity and resistance.
When leaders experience conflict, their ability to reduce or eliminate it will always depend upon how well they communicate their expectations both initially and over time.
Vision Drives Organizational Change
The need for change is normally stimulated by an external “trigger” necessitating a modification of some kind. Connecting the vision to this needed change typically forces the organization out of its status quo, alters values and attitudes, and establishes balance and stability.
Acceptance of change and related implementation procedures is loaded with human-related difficulties. Vision enables leaders to achieve higher levels of “buy in” by overcoming employees’ anxiety over changes, their personal uncertainty and lack of ownership of initiatives and their outcomes.
Leaders understand the culture and capabilities of their organization, and use it as the basis for the embracement of visional change. This change is further effected by:
- Selecting key employees who tend to display unique leadership qualities to be project facilitators or unit directors for various assignments or tasks.
- Working with small groups of employees and mentoring them in various assignments and tasks as it relates to their visional impetus and direction.
- Creating ways for those involved in the change to share successes and failures.
- Using discussion group cycles or brainstorming to move their visional direction and strategic objectives forward.
- Developing small-scale achievable targets in order to introduce change or build small successes from them.
- Encouraging both themselves and their employees to be innovative as well as to engage in more productive behaviors in the workplace.
- Managing change proactively, by focusing forward movement on implementation and action rather than formal competence building.
Excerpt: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Vision: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)