Vision is terribly over-rated as a valuable attribute of leadership.
There… I’ve said it. The elephant is now present in the room.
More than being over-rated, I would suggest that vision is counter-productive to providing appropriate leadership in a world that has become unfathomably complex and rife with intractable problems.
Now, before you fill the comment stream with rebuttals along the lines of this:
“If you don’t have a vision, you won’t know where your organization is headed…”
let me suggest that knowing where your organization is heading may be of less value to society and the world-at-large than realizing the direct and indirect effects your organization is creating along the way.
Gaining Perspective on Vision
Think about this:
Vision is our only sense that operates at a distance.
- One needs distance, separation, and linearity for vision to work
- With vision, we can see to the stars and beyond!
- Indeed, when your nose is pressed up against something, you cannot see much at all
Vision means that we have to somewhat remove ourselves from our object of attention to gain perspective on what we are really seeing.
Gaining perspective means that we deliberately remove and detach ourselves from a situation in a way that artificially enhances the “space” of that situation. Removing one’s self from a situation is not a sustainable or even useful strategy for a contemporary leader!
Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings…
tac·tili·ty (-t l -te) n.
1: the capability of being felt or touched
In a world that is not only complex (non-linear, unpredictable, and non-deterministic), but more importantly, ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate, I would suggest instead that leaders can obtain better guidance by appealing to our most proximate of senses:
The sense of touch.
Instead of asserting the organization’s vision statement, contemporary leaders might better serve their various constituencies by reflecting on the organization’s tactility question:
Whom do we want to touch, and how do we want to touch them, today?
On Seeing and Feeling
When I work with organizational leaders (CEOs, vice-presidents, directors, senior managers, operations-level managers, and supervisors,) I might ask them about their vision. When I do, invariably they take on a rather expansive and lofty affect.
They recite either their personal vision statement or recite the one that is typically laminated or engraved and posted in the lobby.
Then, I ask them about the answer to the tactility question—whom they want to touch and how they want to touch them. Almost instantly, they become focused, intent, activated, engaged.
Staying Close to Home
There is an immediacy to tactility.
The effects that we create and enable are visceral.
We experience them in our bodies and through our emotions, rather than being separated from our most basic of human experiences by casting decisions in the service of an idealized vision that may (or may not) come about in an unknowable future.
Think about decisions – tough decisions – that you’ve made as a leader that perhaps didn’t work out quite as well as you might have hoped.
Then, ask yourself these questions:
- Were those decisions made in the service of your organization’s vision?
- Did the unanticipated consequences that “snuck up and bit you” have to do with the unforeseen effects of that decision?
Especially if we reflect on some of the major “unfortunate” decisions made by business and political leaders. These are decisions that now, in retrospect, can be seen to have had devastating effects on people, on our planet, and indeed on economies both at home and around the world.
These decisions were made in the service of singular visions of the world and their respective organization’s place in that envisioned world.
Now consider how different some of those decisions might have been if they were carefully considered according to the sensory metaphor of tactility:
- What effects do we want to create in our world?
- What might the effects of this decision be on all of the constituencies that we touch (customers, suppliers, community, employees, employers, the natural world, other organizations in the same (or different) industries)?
- Are these the effects that we would intend if we were acting true to our espoused and deeply held values?
In today’s world, it’s time for tactility to guide our contemporary leaders.
In other words, who are we going to touch? How are we going to touch them? And do we really intend to touch them these in ways? I would love to hear your thoughts!
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- The Power of Idealistic-Realism: How Great Leaders Inspire and Transform (blogs.hbr.org)
- Be Idealist. It Makes Life Easier. (kowalskirobert.wordpress.com)
- On Leadership and Executive Blind Spots (linked2leadership.com)