Finding a vision's "true north"
Have you ever been part of a team that didn’t seem to make any progress? Maybe the group had plenty of talent, resources, and opportunities, and team members got along, but the group just never went anywhere. If you have there’s a strong possibility that the situation was caused by lack of vision.
Great vision precedes great achievement. And every team needs compelling vision to give it direction. A team without vision is, at worst, purposeless. At best, it is subject to the personal (and sometimes selfish) agendas of its various members. As the agendas work against each other, the team’s energy and drive drain away.
In contrast, a team that embraces a unified vision becomes focused, energized, and confident. It knows where it’s headed and why it’s going there.
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, a leader of troops during World War II who was called a “soldier’s general,” wrote that “every single soldier must know, before he goes into battle, how the little battle he is to fight fits into the larger picture, and how the success of his fighting will influence the battle as a whole.” People on the team need to know why they’re fighting. Otherwise, the team gets into trouble.
If you lead your team, then you are responsible for identifying a worthy and compelling vision and articulating it to your team members. However, even if you are not the leader, identifying a compelling vision is still important. If you don’t know the team’s vision, you can’t perform with confidence. You can’t be sure you and your teammates are going in the right direction. You can’t even be sure that the team you’re on is the right one for you if you haven’t examined the vision in light of your strengths, convictions, and purpose.
For everyone on the team, the vision must be compelling. But how do you measure that? You check your visionary compass. In fact, a team should examine the following five compasses before embarking on any journey.
A team’s vision must be aligned with…
1. A moral compass (look above)
A moral compass brings integrity to the vision. It helps all the people on the team to check their motives and make sure that they are laboring for the right reasons. It also brings credibility to the leaders who cast the vision – but only if they model the values that the team is expected to embrace. When they do, they fuel the vision, keeping it going.
2. An intuitive compass (look within)
A vision must resonate deep within the leader of the team. Then it must resonate within the team members, who will be asked to work hard to bring it to fruition. That’s the value of intuitive passion. It produces the kind of heat that fires up the committed – and fries the uncommitted.
3. A historical compass (look behind)
Anytime you cast vision, you must create a connection between the past, the present, and the future. How? Tell stories. Principles may fade in people’s minds, but stories stick. Tell stories about the people who have been in the organization a long time, and they will feel valued. At the same time, stories from history give newer team members a sense of security, knowing that the current vision builds on the past and leads to the future.
4. A directional compass (look ahead)
Poet Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Vision provides direction for the team, and part of that direction comes from having goals, which give targets to aim for.
5. A strategic compass (look around)
A goal won’t do the team much good without steps to accomplish it. The value of a strategy is that it brings process to the vision. It identifies resources and mobilizes specific members of the team. People need more than information and inspiration. They need instruction in what to do to make the vision become a reality.
The vision of a team must look beyond current circumstances and any obvious shortcomings of current teammates to see the potential of the team. And a truly great vision challenges people. The great artist Michelangelo prayed, “Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.” If you can confidently measure the vision of your team according to the above compasses, and you find them all pointing in the right direction, then you’ll know that the vision is worth stretching for.
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