Leaders Inspire a Shared Vision
“…. when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Acts 16:10.
Luke records this incident in Paul’s second missionary Journey. God’s plan (vision) was for Paul to enter Europe with the Gospel. The intermediate step was to go to Macedonia: God shares his vision with Paul through the vision of the Macedonian man. Up to that point Paul’s focus and vision had been to preach the Gospel in Asia but the Holy Spirit prevented him. Paul was thus envisioned by God through that vision in the night.
Most times a vision has to be shared to be achieved, especially where the task, for whatever reason, is beyond the capability of an individual. It is the leader’s role to envision others, those with whom they share values, to grasp the vision, to desire to bring about the object of that vision, a different future. In that sense the vision is both a view of the destination of a journey and the embarkation point for those who subscribe. In this case for Paul, the vision was the embarkation point of both a metaphorical and a physical journey.
Leaders Envision the Future by Imagining Exciting and Ennobling Possibilities
“A vision is a mental picture of what tomorrow could be like” (Kouzes and Posner). It is a statement of how things could be and by definition this means it’s goal is to achieve a change compared to how things are today. In that sense it is both real and unreal: real in that it pictures some practical difference that can be made and unreal in that it does not yet exist.
The vision is driven by values; that which is of shared importance to those who share the vision. It embodies their values because it will result in some change that is important enough to attempt to bring it into reality. Thus vision gives a focus to human energy. In the Christian context, although not exclusively so, it ennobles those who seek its accomplishment because its goal will be of significance before God.
Because a vision is the embodiment of values it rises from the inside and works out towards both a vocal and a practical expression. Visions tend to start with an individual, or a few people who have shared values and thus a common outlook on the world and its need. In the Christian context the Holy Spirit is also at work as he envisions God’s people with a view of His concerns, desires and will. The process through which a vision emerges is a voyage of discovery itself, it is typically not instant but takes time, sometimes years.
(In the last Module of Growing the Servant Heart we will consider the matter of vision further.)
Leaders Enlist Others in a Common Vision by Appealing to Their Shared Aspiration
This is how Kouzes and Posner express what happens. At first sight it sounds somewhat cynical and manipulative. But let’s consider these aspirations further.
Aspirations arise from those things which are important to us, our values. If they are important to us they will have some kind of impact and outcome which we will desire to see fulfilled. For the Christian these values should be emerging from a godly, Christ-likeness as we mature in Christ. In Exploring Leadership in the Kingdom we discovered that Christ-centred servant leadership is primarily about other people, not the leader. The primary goal of such a leader is to enable individuals to fulfil their potential when serving God. We would expect, therefore, that their aspirations are Kingdom aspirations, shaped by the Holy Spirit. The process of enlisting others is then about drawing together those with common values in God’s service.
For some this drive will be stronger than aspiration because they are the recipients of God’s call to a particular ministry. At the other end of the spectrum it may simply be that someone prefers to work in a Christian enterprise as their normal employment. In this case, motivations and expectation may be quite different and common values and vision need to be forged through a process of dialogue. In any event the Christ-centred servant leader does not impose values and vision upon others. They engage others to work through the issues in order to arrive at this place of shared values and vision voluntarily.
Envisioning Leaders are Positive and Enthusiastic
A leader’s constituents also need to see a positive, enthusiastic, forward-looking attitude in their leaders. It inspires confidence and is a source of encouragement to those who follow them on the journey. Just imagine for a moment someone who is dispirited and full of doubt attempting to encourage you to join them in their project or stick with it in difficult circumstances. Would you?
Always Keep Your Eye on the Horizon
Frequently journeys become beset with confusion and uncertainty. This can dishearten those who have embarked upon it because it’s at these times that one can lose sight of the goal; the purpose; the vision. In such circumstances the leader needs to help those on the journey maintain the vision.
In an aircraft when things get confused and uncertain pilots are told to keep their eye on the horizon. It’s the same with the journey, keep your eye on the horizon and don’t let the fog of confusion obscure it. The humorous observation is often made at such times, “When you up to your neck in alligators it’s hard to remember that you want to empty the lake.” The alligators may need to be dealt with or avoided first, but that should only be a temporary diversion before regaining course.
Helping people maintain sight of the vision is important because it marks the final destination of the journey. The path may turn out to be more zig-zag than straight but knowing where you are going allows the zigs and the zags to keep heading in the right direction.
Empower Through Collective Wisdom
We’ve already observed that seeking to enlist others in the vision is a process of engagement not imposition as a shared vision is forged. A leader is not the only repository of wisdom and insight. Sometimes he is not even the originator of the vision but has himself been enlisted.
Those who have would embark on the journey may have more insight and understanding, consequently it is important to engage them in the formulation of the vision. This is particularly true in situations where the goal has been delegated. Then the servant leader’s job is not to have all the answers but to facilitate the team in working out what the goal means and personalising a vision to bring it into being. Such a vision belongs to all involved; it becomes their own possession rather than being a borrowed “flag of convenience”.
As we shall see later in the Growing the Servant Heart programme, the irony of effective communications is not excellent speaking skills but the ability to listen. The same is true of shaping a vision and enlisting others. Listening well is central to the process of engaging collective wisdom and insight. Listening well shows that the leader values those with whom he engages and in turn helps the journey become collaborative rather authoritarian.
- Take a Moment: In your context, what is your vision?
- What would that different future look like when you complete the journey?
- Who else would see this as important and of value?
- If they haven’t captured the vision how would you envision them?