Earlier I touched on the importance of effective leaders communicating a vision.  Whether you attempt to communicate it in three words, as Mother Teresa did, or in an entire series of meetings, slogans and advertisements, it must be done.  A vision that is not shared throughout an organization or group of people becomes little more than a pipe dream.  There have been numerous articles and books written on the subject of shared vision, which can be a study in itself.  I do not want to revisit all of these concepts and philosophies in this chapter.  It is, however, worthwhile to spend some time focused on the importance of creating and communicating a shared vision.  What I intend to do in the pages that follow is spend a bit of time on concept, then provide you some examples that will give you the essence of shared vision.  Along the way I will also describe some important principles that will help you make your vision one that is shared.

What sets us apart

Throughout our lives many different things motivate us.  In this 1943 paper, entitled A Theory Of Human Motivation, Abraham Maslow argued that motivation was largely driven by where an individual was situated along a hierarchy of needs; physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self actualization. [1]

While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs certainly has its merits, like any theory, if taken out of context or to an extreme it has serious flaws.  First it presumes that humans are no different than animals regarding motivation.  It presumes motivation comes solely from how a stimulus directly affects them.  It is highly unlikely that a dog (unless it is Lassie) would enter a burning building to save a child that is trapped inside.  The minute Rover encounters the smoke and heat stimuli, his basic need for survival will take over and he will move away from the obvious danger.  On the contrary, there are countless accounts of humans putting themselves directly in harm’s way to save another.  We do this because there is something inside us that allows us to overcome the animal instinct of self-preservation in order to do something that is heroic and selfless.  Secondly, Maslow’s theory presumes that we are motivated only by the reality of what is immediately in front of us.  In other words, “if my basic needs are not being met I am not willing to invest time and energy on something that will have rewards much later”.  Put in more recent vernacular; “show me the money”!  If this were true all of the altruism in the world would be coming from the affluent members of our society who have moved well along Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  If you believe that, I suggest spend some time in your local soup kitchen or Salvation Army facility.  For as long as we have had recorded history we have seen accounts of people moving out of their comfort zone to take on a task regardless of where they have been on the “needs” hierarchy.  Once again I would like to take you back to the year 1440 BC when our friend Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  Even though these people were in slavery in Egypt their basic needs were provided for.  They had food, clothing, shelter and jobs.  In fact, I would argue that Moses was well along Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  He was given position and power in Egypt.  Yet there was something that motivated these people to give up all they had to move out of their comfort zone and into the desert.  These people were not stupid.  They understood the desert much better than you and me.  They had been there before, and they knew what they were leaving behind.  So what motivated them to follow Moses?  It was a VISION; a promise of a better future!  They were willing to endure suffering in order to claim the vision of a land promised but unseen.  The vision was so significant and real to them they referred to it as the “Promised Land”.

A vision can be a very powerful thing.  It transcends the here and now and projects us into a future that promises something much better.  It has the power to take us out of our comfort zone.  It has the power to motivate us to endure suffering.  In most extreme cases it has the power to cause us to lay down our life.  It has been proven time and again throughout history.  With a tool this powerful it is no wonder so much has been written about it.  Unfortunately, over the years the concept of vision has been abused to the point where people in organizations cringe when they hear the word vision or the phrase vision statement.  It conjures images of convoluted sentences that are ambiguous, flowery, and full of superlatives.  The reason vision statements have received such a bad rap in corporate America in recent years is because they are often relegated to nothing more than a group of sentences on a plaque, prominently displayed in the lobby of the corporate headquarters.  Some CEOs have tried to give it more prominence by including it in marketing and employee literature.  Even then it means little because it has little to do with what people in the organization work on every day, it is not easily understood, or because there is no clear correlation between company leaderships actions and the stated mission for the company.

A shared vision is the one common element that can motivate an entire group of people, regardless of their particular situation or needs.  So, how do effective leaders create a shared vision?

© Mark P. Loschiavo

[1] Maslow’s theory asserts that based on where an individual currently resides on his “Hierarchy of Needs”, he will respond differently to stimuli.  For example, if an individual does not have enough money to provide for his most basic needs—food and shelter—it is ineffective to try to motivate him with a big office or a fancy title. It is only after those basic needs are met that more intangible benefits become attractive to him. Maslow also argues that as an individual moves up the “needs” hierarchy he ultimately approach a point of being “self-actualized”. This is a point where he is at peace with himself and his surrounding, and is free to take on any opportunity or obstacle in a completely uninhibited manner. Because Maslow developed such a compelling argument with this concept it has become a cornerstone for many management theories.

Be Sociable, Share!