Buying and Selling Vision

8 Apr

My MBA classmates fervently argued their  opinion that you can’t have passion for an idea that you didn’t give birth to.

I disagree.  If that was true, then very few of us would have fulfilling jobs.  Very few of us would be in an MBA program.  Hollywood celebrities would not so eagerly dress in fashion styles that they did not personally design. And none of us would be using social media like Facebook and Twitter passionately, because we didn’t invent it.

Gaining a passion for something that we did not create is about being sold a vision.  The best market branding sells a vision – a better/different/happier/healthier vision of the world – because of a product or service. We can choose to passionately buy into the vision or not.

There are a lot of skills necessary in leading others well.  There’s empowerment and mentoring and handling setbacks.  But enlisting others to a vision comes first.

Martin Luther King Jr’s speech is so moving, so timeless, so needed because it provided a clear vision of a better future for America and why change was needed. It engaged people in the present, using a lot of past historical concepts, and propelled them towards a better future.

The same is true about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain defending Little Round Top.  Would he have been able to defend Little Round Top without the help of the mutineers who were added to his regiments? I don’t think so.  And his statement to them was very stirring: he described “a new kind of army” one doing something revolutionary in “setting other men free” and appealed to their belief that all men have value. In essence, it was the same argument that Martin Luther King Jr made.

And then there was Shackleton.  Recruiting men for a hazardous journey to the coldest place on earth was only possible because Shackleton had a clear vision and they were caught up in it.

The other pieces of inter-personal leadership are just as important, but they come into play after you begin leading people.  Providing a vision is necessary in order to have a group to lead. You can’t have a leader without followers.  Even if you are thrust into a situation with “ready-made followers,” you will not retain them if you do not provide vision.

Once followers have been inspired by a vision, they need to be empowered to act.  This will take different approaches for different people and part of emotional intelligence and inter-personal skills is learning how people need to be led and coached:

  • Some will require side-by-side mentoring before they are ready to initiate things. When I interviewed my boss about his military parachuting career, he talked a lot about building self-confidence in the troops under his command by making stretch goals (but ones that he knew they could reach with some coaching). As each goal was met, their self-confidence and belief in their abilities grew, and they could stretch further to meet the next goal.
  • Some will be ready to take initiative on their own. They just may need the leader’s backing, approval, and occasional “check-ups” to discuss progress, role play potential  pros and cons to different approaches and discuss implementation in advance. For some, side-by-side mentoring would be too stifling and lessen their desire to contribute.
  • Some will need to be reminded again and again of the vision. Why the task is worth doing. Why the leader is worth following. Why their particular role matters and why they should always look to expand and improve upon that role.
  • Some needs lots of encouragement to feel empowered. Some feel that encouragement seems false and would prefer to “just get on with it.”

Not everyone has the same learning style. Just as a teacher employs a variety of different techniques to teach a classroom of children how to read, a leader needs to learn an array of techniques for effectively leading a diverse group of people.

But begin with vision.  Get people so excited about an idea that, when they talk about it to others, others will assume it was their creative genius. A leader succeeds when the word “our” enters the discussion.




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