The “Vision Thing”

Posted by jlubans on May 15, 2017

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Caption: Leaders Aiga Vihmane and Inga Veidere standing on side with Armands Kalniņš right of center.

Each semester of my Democratic Workplace class I have students take part in a vision-sharing exercise; it’s called “Mirage”*.
The term Mirage suggests that a shared vision can be illusionary; we may be kidding ourselves that everyone understands the vision and once they do, that they are all on board.
Unfortunately in the world outside the classroom, some followers who understand the vision may resist and seek to undermine it.
Worse, they may pretend to go along, but sabotage is ever on their minds.
If you, the leader, can get the alienated to speak up, you are half way to converting them. If they do not admit and explain their opposition, then you have an enemy in your camp.
Obviously, being able to convince followers of one’s vision is an essential component of effective leadership. When the vision is understood, the better people know how to do their jobs.
It is likely the quintessential thing that leaders do – share their vision so there’s no doubt as to what the challenge is, what the day’s effort is about, what our business is and why it is important to deliver the product or the service. We know what to do.
My usual way of doing Mirage is to select three or four leaders who take turns at explaining the vision.
I show each leader the same image he or she is to communicate to the group at large. Each refers to the image but cannot show it to the group.
Leaders are limited to words and gestures, no drawing. Each leader has four minutes in front of the group to articulate his/her vision. Questions are allowed and encouraged but tend to be few.
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Caption: What the leader sees.

The team’s drawing shows whether they can replicate and confirm the leader’s spoken vision.
Easy to do? Try it.
Just like real life, not everyone hears the same thing, nor wants to hear the same thing, nor upon hearing it, can replicate it exactly.
If followers do not ask questions of the leader, then the drawing may be left up to one person who “gets it” but the rest of the team sits by in silent observation.
If they don’t “get it” their drawing of the vision won’t be congruent with the leader’s. How can any team move forward on a leader’s vision if they do not understand it?
In any case, it occurred to me to do the mirage class activity in a different way.
Why not use three leaders – a leadership group?
Three students volunteered: Aiga Vihmane, Inga Veidere, and Armands Kalniņš.
Then, abiding by my mantra of self-organization, I had the three leaders decide how to use their 12 minutes.
I only had one drawing so the trio had literally to share the vision; in other words, they had to know it among themselves.
Each had to check in with the other and could and did make corrections to individual interpretations.
Sure, there is bound to be confusion at the start of the “vision thing” - as a former US president termed it.
At first the trio stayed together. Then they split and consulted with individual teams, all the time referring back to that one piece of paper.
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Caption: Inga Veidere, vision in hand, clarifying.

How did they do? All three teams got the vision and probably more accurately than in my former leaders-taking-turns model.
The drawn perspectives were a bit different, e.g. what looks like a teepee was smaller or larger depending on team and leader, but it was the image, the vision as described.
Of course, perspective suggests that even when we have a shared vision each person may view parts as larger or smaller or more important or less so depending on who we are.
Besides the shared leadership, I noted that with this less formal approach, the teams were much more willing to ask questions. And, three concurrent leaders – all on the “same page” could advise the teams, even better. Three knowledgeable and collaborative “heads” may indeed be better than one; after 12 minutes all three teams had the vision.
Pretty effective sharing of a complicated vision!

*Source: More than likely my version of Mirage comes from one of the several Project Adventure playbooks of adventure learning activities.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($9.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017
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