If you had to sum up in just one word Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, what would that word be?
My vote is for “inspiring.” This speech is considered one of the major turning points of the Civil Rights Movement. It was inspiring in the true sense of the word in that it breathed life into the people who heard it by giving them a vision they could all share. As a leader in business, you have the same responsibility: the responsibility to inspire your people to achieve great things by creating a shared vision.
Inspire a Shared Vision
“Inspire a Shared Vision” is the second in our blog series about The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® that James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner define in their classic work, The Leadership Challenge. Inspiring a shared vision involves two components:
- leaders must “envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities” and
- “enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.”
You might have already guessed the issue. Lots of leaders are good at envisioning the future. Far fewer are skilled at enlisting others in what they see. Why? Because they commit the fatal error of envisioning the future in isolation and trying to impose it on their people. It is their vision … not their people’s vision.
What is the solution? Listening.
That’s it; pure and simple. Kouzes and Posner explain, “The best leaders are great listeners. Here are some ways to improve your listening skills:
- Listen carefully to what other people have to say and how they feel.
- Ask good (and often tough) questions, are open to ideas other than their own, and even lose arguments in support of the common good.
Through intense listening, leaders get a sense of what people want, what they value, and what they dream about. This sensitivity to others is no small skill. It is a truly precious human ability.”
I (Tim) have watched my clients inspire a shared vision with their people, and it is tremendously exciting. One client, in particular, stands out in my mind. This leader wanted to set an extremely high goal – basically to increase their customers by 10x. That’s an audacious goal! To reach that goal, he didn’t call a meeting, announce the objective, and encourage the team to get behind it. Instead, he spent time with his people – not talking, but listening.
This leader listened to what was important to his people professionally and personally.
He heard what they wanted to see for their families and for their futures. He took note of the concerns they had and the values they cherished. He paid attention to what they said about the company’s services and its customers. He asked countless questions – about what they wanted their lives to look like, what they hoped for in their careers, what they cared about for their customers, what they desired in their workplace, and more.
Then, having really listened, this leader called all his people together and painted a picture that showed them how they could work together to achieve everything they wanted. He talked about their core values and how those core values would create a healthy and energized corporate culture. He explained how that culture would positively impact how they worked with each other and with their customers. This, in turn, would attract more customers and lead to more opportunities. Everyone would benefit – each employee, all their families, and every customer.
He wrapped the goals for business growth within this larger vision for the company. He had every confidence that if his people shared a common vision and purpose, the achievement of specific goals would be a natural outcome. And that is exactly what happened. Why? Because, as Kouzes and Posner affirm, “Shared visions attract more people, sustain higher levels of motivation, and withstand more challenges than those that are exclusive to only a few.” A shared vision is a vision that your people own for themselves and, because they own it, they will do everything to make it a reality.
Therefore, if you as a leader want to “Inspire a Shared Vision” – and that should definitely be a priority for every leader! – devote yourself to listening to the aspirations of your team. Pay close attention to the words people use, the images they employ, and the objectives they have. Then, take what you have heard and use it to create a vision that everyone can get behind.
The results will be outstanding, guaranteed. When you breathe life into your people by inspiring a shared vision, even the sky is no longer the limit for what you can accomplish!
“Are you anchored or adrift?” Read our previous blog in the Leadership Challenge.