We have a favorite saying - “Starting up is an inside job, but scaling up needs a village.” As simplistic as that sounds, there comes the point in every leader’s journey where they discover that they simply cannot go at it alone. How do they take the village along and show everyone the greatness that must emerge from the shadows?
This month, we are discussing the concept of a shared vision. As we were thinking of how best to describe a shared vision, we came across an anecdote of a cathedral. Perhaps, you may already have heard of it.
Now, imagine a construction project which even the architect will never fully see. What would be the state of the masons, the builders, the helpers? And yet, one curious individual asks these three builders in our story what they’re working on. The first one says, “Can’t you see? I’m cutting stone!” We think that the answer is to be expected from someone who is only ever cutting stone all day long.
To the same question, the second man responds, “I’m cutting this rock into the desired shape because my supervisor asked me to.” Better, because there is a clear objective, but still unsatisfied, our man proceeds to ask the third guy the same question.
“What are you working on?”
“Do you see that cathedral over there? I am building it.”
And so it goes with a shared vision. Leaders who can inspire every employee to see the cathedral have a far greater chance of seeing their dreams come to life than those who just help them follow orders. So, the toughest job as a leader is not managing self and others but inspiring- being able to be inspired and to keep that inspiration alive for years is what they really need to do.
The greatest example of inspired leadership in our times comes from none other than Steve Jobs himself. As visionaries go, he was outstanding. Henry Ford also saw the vision of cars for everyone. Mahatma Gandhi is a perfect example of an idea that far outgrew the spirit of one man. Perhaps the most relatable example of shared vision comes from Google and its co-founders who built an entire business from a basement. Yes, each of these people had a brilliant idea and the drive to see it through.
But what they also had were skills required to scale. At each step of the way, they outperformed industry expectations and gave their teams something concrete to believe in. As leaders, how can we inspire others with our vision?
1. “A state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice,” Martin Luther King Jr. famously said. Vision is grand, but it is also emotionally evocative. He could just as well have said, “We will work to abolish racial tension in America,” but where is the zing in that? Leaders who inspire know and understand the power of words and their ability to create magic. They use storytelling, visual cues, and metaphors to change the world.
Apple’s Think Different campaign said, “The people who are crazy enough to change the world, are the ones who do.” Sure, they were selling the iPod, but that one line emphasizes so much more than that- a willingness to look at a future in technology that hasn’t yet come to pass.
2. It may seem like all of these anecdotes and stories are good for a while, when the real challenge is to keep employees engaged daily. A few different things come into the picture here. First, a leader needs to know how to hire right. We often look at standard parameters like education, experience, etc. to hire but it is time we started making some of these decisions based on attributes that do not fit on a CV, such as willingness, coachability, an organizational fit.
Then, there’s also the culture factor. Many startups and small businesses struggle with culture issues because it is shaped by the employees who work there, and can, therefore, go either way. Many leaders are tempted to design their organization’s culture based on their personal beliefs and preferences, but a less proactive approach in this regard may help. Listen to your employees and give them what they want.
3. Never underestimate the power of genuineness. Everything a leader says is taken at face value. When a leader cannot stay firm on the big picture, the employees most certainly won’t. This is where a genuine belief in the idea helps immensely.
Big ideas are built on big promises, but it is also important not to keep employees in the dark about business developments. Theranos is the perfect example of what happens when silos are created within the business. It is important not to let the vision become so all-encompassing that everyone refuses to see reality.
4. We often encounter a culture of negotiation within organizations. Negotiation isn’t all bad, but some individuals make it their job to undercut the other party as much as possible. We also notice that this culture soon becomes prevalent across the board. Every employee begins to use negotiation as a tactic to do less than what they promised.
In other words, an issue in one area can quickly grow to become a malady, so it is also a leader’s job to prune the unwanted. Positive ideas can only continue to grow when they are constantly cared for, and that means having honest conversations, holding everyone accountable for their job, and allowing everyone to trust each other fully.
These are some excellent starting points not just for building a shared vision but also to sustain it over time. What challenges do you face as a leader in sharing your vision? Tell us in the comments.