It was a simple and yet comfortable office as we sat down together that afternoon in the early 90’s.
“Geery,” he commented. “I know rural healthcare in the midwest is not fancy, but we need a vision. We are dying for a vision.”
We sat quietly for a couple of moments and then he said to me, “We need to become the Embassy Suites of healthcare in our community. We need to deliver individualized service, personalized care, and exceptional medicine.”
I smiled because the birth of a vision is always special. The next afternoon he shared this vision with the executive team and many people agreed. They shared their thoughts about the best hotels they visited and how the quality of the service was critical. They talked about what the words “individualized”, “personalized” and “exceptional” meant to them. With time, coaching and guidance, people became engaged, and the vision grew and evolved.
The second of The Core Four Actions states “What you envision, guides.” When we review the dictionary definition for the word, “envision”, we find the following meanings: “to picture”, “to form in the mind”, “to exercise the powers of judgment, conception, or inference”, and “to have in the mind or call to mind a thought.” When reading these definitions, I am reminded of a quote by Marcus Buckingham about leadership. As he wrote in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005: “You must become adept at calling upon those needs we all share. Our common needs include the need for security, for community, for authority, and for respect, but for you, the leader, the most powerful universal need is our need for clarity. To transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future, you must discipline yourself to describe our joint future vividly and precisely. As your skill at this grows, so will our confidence in you.”
I also am reminded of something that William Bridges in his book, Managing Transitions, Da Capo Press, 2003, pointed out. During transitions, he noted, people need the following:
- The Purpose: the answer to the question “why?”
- The Picture: the look and feel when we reach the goal
- The Plan: the step-by step goals of how we are going to get to the above picture
- The Part: clarity about our role in the process
When confronted with the challenges and complexity of strategic change, we as leaders need to generate a picture which will guide us. A good vision, according to Dan Cohen in his book, The Heart of Change Field Guide: Tools and Tactics for Leading Change in Your Organization, Harvard Business School Press, 2005, offers a compelling, motivating picture of the future and serves several important purposes. First, it clarifies the general direction of change by providing a kind of motion picture - a living, dynamic illustration - of the behaviors required for success at all levels. Second, it helps identify the behaviors that must be encouraged as well as those that must be eliminated. Third, a good vision helps pinpoint key performance measures, and motivates people.
Neeli Bendapudi, professor, and Venkat Bendpadudi, senior lecturer at The Ohio State University’s Fischer College of Business in their article “How to Use Language that Employees Get”, in the September 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review, write: “In our research on executives who have instilled a great sense of purpose in others, introduced powerful brands, or managed successfully in turbulent times, we’ve found that they often use terms and metaphors that resonate with their employees.” This is the essence of a great vision and the second of the The Core Four Action. When you build a great vision, it resonates with all involved. They not only hear it. They also feel it. When planning for change, it is important to build a vision that people can utilize.
The difficulty is that many leaders approach the process like a chess master rather than a gardener. As General Stanley McChrystal with Tantum Collins, David Silverman and Chris Fussell write in their book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement For A Complex World, Portfolio/Penguin, 2015: “The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing. A gardening approach to leadership is anything but passive. The leader acts as an “Eyes-On, Hands-Off” enabler who creates and maintains an ecosystem in which the organization operates.”
As we grow the right kind of working environment within a company, we also create the opportunity for a vision to not only be heard, but also, over time and with consistent good role modeling by leaders, owned and understood by those who have to execute it. The key is create a vision that moves from being “a vision” to being “our vision.”
This sounds simple but it is not easy. The first step is create a high degree of trust within the organization. The second, and also important, step is to create a vision worth following.
This week, step back from the day to day rush and envision a better future. Then, begin the journey of sharing it with others. With their insights and clarity, you have the potential to create something that all of us will own and execute during the coming years.