Vision is an interesting thing. I have been in many organizations where we sat around a table a worked on developing a vision statement. Vision statements as generated by a board of executives is not always truly a vision. A vision is a picture of what you want to become. It is not what you are now, it is what you picture as your ideal self. If this is for an worldwide organization, a small company, or an individual, it makes no difference. It is all about the picture of who you want to be.
A vision should be a stretch goal. If you have a vision of yourself or your organization and you have achieved that vision, then your vision is not lofty enough. Without that picture of what we want to become, it is very difficult to determine what our goals should be. A vision is like the North Star that ancient mariners would use to guide themselves across the oceans. Every goal, every decision, every action can be measured against whether it takes us toward that vision or further from it. A vision is how we know if we are progressing or regressing in our aspirations through life.
Every organization needs a vision. In the book of Proverbs in the Bible, we read, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” Just like individuals, organizations need to know where they want to go. It is imperative that the executive team create a vision for their teams in order to give the teams direction and guidance in their decision-making process.
Leadership is the ability to create a vision and get others to buy into that vision. Leadership is the act of creating a vision and getting others to act on that vision. Leadership has nothing to do with the moral value of the vision. Leadership has nothing to do with the techniques used to get others to act on the vision. Leadership is just having the vision and getting others to act on it.
There are a number of managers throughout industry that do not have vision. I would posit to say that they might be great managers, but they are not leaders. Managers need the ability to maintain the status quo. Managers need to keep their staff happy and complete projects and operations activities. Managers need to meet the needs of their bosses and shareholders, while not turning over staff. There are a bunch of managers in the corporate world, but leaders are much more scarce. Managers are put into their positions by a hiring decision, leadership is a learned skill.
There have been many powerful leaders throughout history. Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt were powerful leaders for the Allies during World War II. Unfortunately, there were powerful leaders on the Axis side as well, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Emperor Hirohito for example. These were all powerful leaders. These all had visions of what they wanted to become. They were all able to get others to act on those visions. The moral ground on which they stood had no bearing on their power as leaders.
Servant Leadership is an excellent model of leadership. The term was originally made famous by Robert Greenleaf in an essay that he published in 1970. From the original essay by Robert Greenleaf, as quoted on the Greenleaf institute website under the heading “What is Servant Leadership”
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.
“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?“
If the leader needs to make sure that other people’s priority needs are being met first, and the definition of a leader is one who gets others to act on his vision, how do these two items co-exist?
The servant leader helps his team create visions for themselves and then do whatever is necessary to help them achieve their vision.
That is the secret sauce. A servant leader is more concerned with the individuals that he is leading is achieving their visions than he is with his own vision. In a corporate organization, as a manager/leader, it is important to know who each of your team members wants to be. It is important to show that you care more for their well being than for the bottom line of the organization.
One of the things that I have learned over the years is that no one person is so important to an organization that they cannot leave if there is a better situation that fits their own vision. It is important for me as a manager/leader to know if one of my staff’s vision does not match up with the corporate vision, or that the corporate structure and direction will not help the person achieve their vision. For example, if I have a staff member whose vision is to work from home and be around when his little child starts to walk, but my organization’s policies are not currently flexible enough to allow remote workers, then I need to let my team member know this and assist him with finding a situation that will allow for this. I, as a servant leader, need to put this one person’s priority needs above my own desire to have him around. This does not mean that I encourage him to leave; it just means that I need to be supportive enough to assist if someone wants to find an opportunity that will assist him in achieving his vision more readily. In my history as a manager, I have never had anyone surprise me with notice when they found a better opportunity. I have always been in contact with my team member and usually I am used as a reference in their future employment. I have even helped some staff members with interview techniques and questions, once they let me know that they were going to find employment that more helps them achieve their vision.
Vision and leadership are intertwined. Without vision there can be no true leadership. Without leadership, vision is but a dream. Helping others find their own vision, and helping those people to achieve their vision, that is servant leadership. Through servant leadership, we achieve our goals as leaders and human beings.