Leadership : the power of shared vision
An exciting part of my journey is the wonderful opportunity to meet many leaders, and whenever they share their beliefs and experiences, one word dominates and seems to assume universal currency as a vital ingredient of leadership: vision.
Over the past few years, I have tried an experiment several times. Whenever I see vision statements displayed all over an office, I ask large gatherings at company workshops as to how many of them can recall their company’s vision verbatim. This surprising outcome has recurred with unfailing regularity. Only a couple of hands go up, and even then, they seem tentative. A few more dare to raise their hand when asked if they can recall the essence of the vision at least, if not the actual text. In all, less than 10% pass the litmus test, every single time. Georges Braque, the French artist who is known to have developed Cubism along with Picasso, had observed that “the only thing that matters in art is the part that cannot be explained”. This is indeed true for leadership and vision, too.
Who and what we are, and what we need to do, are questions a leader is expected to have answers to. A leader is a steward who envisions, generates new strategies, illuminates the road ahead and inspires the team to rally for the cause. In 1980, Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, proposed that the value of a network=n squared, where n is the number of people. Thus, a ten member network is worth a hundred, but a twenty member network is worth 400; you double the network and quadruple its value. A vision, when it translates to a shared vision assumes the power of Metcalfe’s Law, and the resultant value could be exponential. I recall receiving a message from my senior partner much before I became one at my firm, a paraphrased thought attributed to Albert Camus: “Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my partner”.
To create a shared vision, a leader must invest time in listening to people, understanding their needs, unravelling their fears, anticipating their hopes and co-creating and communicating an image of the envisioned future that mirrors their aspirations. Spartacus, many centuries ago, had led the revolution of slaves against the Roman Empire and was vanquished. Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor who came down to see the conquered slaves who survived the war had never met the leader responsible for this uprising.On asking the imprisoned slaves to reveal which one of them was Spartacus, and eliciting no response, Aurelius threatened to behead every one of the slaves till he discovered the culprit-in-chief. On hearing this, Spartacus stood up and declared: “I am Spartacus. Leave them alone”. Within seconds, the man next to Spartacus also stood up to declare that he was Spartacus. Before long all the slaves were calling themselves as Spartacus. Amazing as it was, each slave was willing to give up his life for the cause of freedom, and the vision was no longer Spartacus’ alone. A fine example of what shared vision is all about.
Leadership goes beyond having a vision, compelling as it may be. It involves the ability to enable a shared vision that can translate intent into reality to create sustainable outcomes. The power of nurturing the vision requires articulating a compelling purpose and enabling commitment all the way down the pyramid, touching the lowest common denominator, through collective belief, meaning and trust. “Our consciousness is very limited, we know only a minuscule part of the world in which we live,” cautioned Escher, the master artist of perspective. A vital question that leaders must ask: is my vision statement just decorating the corporate walls or is it really firing up souls?
( Destiny Beckons_Udaipur : The picture above was captured on my visit to the wonderful fairy tale city, Udaipur, surrounded by a garland of hills, in the state of Rajasthan, literally the Land of Kings, in the western part of India. Two beautiful lakes, Lake Pichola and Fateh Sagar Lake, set a poetic setting for magnificient palaces, where the resplendent sun takes on gorgeous hues…NS Rajan)