The Nature of Vision
Some terms are charged with so many associations and so much baggage that using them can get in the way. Vision has been overused so much that it approaches the realm of words like proactive and branding. Unfortunately, vision also happens to be descriptive of what you need.
Vision Is Connection
We've discussed how people work best when they can see how their activities fit into a larger scheme. In other words, they need to feel connected to something bigger. That's one view of what vision really is. That “something bigger” can be a personal ideal or principle, or it can be a larger context that people acknowledge as important. This chapter focuses on the larger context in terms of what the team and, to a broader extent, the organization want to accomplish.
Many people think Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. He didn't. Instead, he had a big vision of a world powered by electricity, and the incandescent bulb was one of the most potentially dramatic changes. So he led his company, including researchers and technicians, to create a viable commercial bulb.
That's where a leader comes in. Vision is the connection between what someone does and the “big picture” that requires the action. It's the ability to see these connections and frame them in such ways that others can see them. Vision is seeing in your mind's eye how the parts work together to achieve something larger.
Operating with that grasp of context and how things work within it is critical. Without that, your group will never achieve a thing because no one will see a reason for doing so. With such vision, on the other hand, you can move mountains — figuratively and literally.
Vision and Synergy
Ever hear of the word
Chemical reactions are an excellent way to think of synergy. You mix a number of substances together in a container, reach in with tongs, grasp a small bit of something, and pull. Suddenly you are extruding a line of nylon — something that was in no way present before.
Vision is like a catalyst. It's a substance that doesn't take part in a reaction between other materials, but whose very presence makes the reaction possible. When vision is present, people can come together and reinforce each other's efforts, creating synergy and a result that would otherwise not be possible.
Vision and Visionaries
To try something new, you actually have to think about
Such efforts are relatively infrequent. Yes, we do have examples like Bill Gates and Aung San Suu Kyi — people who have such powerful views of where they want to go that others are swept up and carried away. While those are great examples of leadership, there are many other ways of being a leader. You can't force yourself to suddenly be creative in specific ways or see what others don't. Leading is a more fundamental and universal phenomenon. As a leader, it is your responsibility to help others see the vision of what you want to accomplish.
The early story of General Motors's Saturn division illustrates this concept of vision. Saturn was originally an experiment in automobile design and management styles. Employees got to transfer to the new division because they shared an enthusiasm for the new idea and way of working.
Part of this new idea was the ability for any employee on the assembly line to stop production on the line if there was a defect or problem found with the process or a specific part. By allowing individual employees to stop the assembly line, Saturn was able to ensure that the problem would be found early on in the manufacturing process, saving thousands of dollars.
A standard criticism of companies floundering in the marketplace is that they lack direction. The leaders don't have a clear strategy, and generally people don't seem to know where they are heading. In short, there is no vision governing corporate operations.
The exciting aspect of allowing employees to stop the assembly line is the power it puts in their hands. They feel totally committed and connected to the Saturn process. The positive impact on employees is immeasurable, but the positive impact on the Saturn division is clear — in saved time, reduced quality issues, and fewer recalls and defects. Employees understood the vision because leaders put the power to reach objectives literally in their hands.