A Vision that is Yours Alone is an Hallucination

Steve Case once said ‘Vision without execution is hallucination’. Before you get to execution, a vision goes awry if it isn’t shared by the others who must do the work.

Read most standard texts on leadership and they will begin with the leader setting the vision of a team. ‘Leader [insert verb] the vision’ defines much leadership training. As a result the focus become crafting a compelling vision and communicating it in the most persuasive way. Leaders are then expected to ensure the team delivers to that vision. Case’s comment highlights the need to ensure delivery.

There is one flaw in this approach to leadership:

An hallucination is something you think is real but others cannot see. The fact you can see it is not enough. The team cannot see what you see no matter how good your communication skills. People cannot deliver what they cannot see.

Team visions are far more effective when created by the team rather than the leader. Allowing others to contribute to shaping the vision leverages their potential to find personal purpose, to contribute more and to improve the picture. It deepens their understanding of the situation and the drivers of change. People who co-create make their own sense. The work of building a vision engages and enables others to own the vision and lead adaptation over time. The full passions, expertise and experience of the team can contribute to shaping the outcome. That work is the best guarantee the vision is seen and well understood by all.

Imposing a vision and sustaining that imposition is really hard work and largely counterproductive. No amount of telling conveys the richness of the leaders vision in a busy age of continuous partial attention. In complex scenarios the leader’s vision may be partial or too simplistic. Confusion and misinterpretation are likely. In networks there will be competing visions and competing alternatives for work. Critically an imposed vision is always the leader’s and often a compromise of purpose and passion for the team. Abundance has been replaced with compromise.

A leader’s vision is rarely seen as open for improvement even if the leader seeks input. Power differences discourage feedback. The worst outcome for organisations seeking to respond to changing markets is to be stuck thoughtlessly delivering a dated vision imposed by a now out of touch leader. Pushing the vision through will disengage others, destroy the leader’s influence and jeopardise the business.

Next time you need a vision to guide the work of a team think ‘Team [insert verb] vision’. The leader should be the facilitator not dictator of that process.

Execution is far easier when a vision is co-created. We all need fewer hallucinating leaders.

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