Saturday, December 21, 2013

Leadership by Lamination

We interfere with real change and service when we think that progress grows out of the vision of the leader. The myth is that if we can just make the message sufficiently clear and compelling, if we can describe the burning platform with enough urgency and a bright tomorrow with enough zeal, change will occur. This leads to a great emphasis on communicating the vision and the business case for change.

The problem here is twofold. First, we affirmed, at the moment of lamination, that the leader’s vision was the one that counted. We all wanted to know what they were seeking. Once we knew this, we could all align ourselves and proceed to live it out. However, most often it was actually a support person who wrote the vision and brought it back to the leader for approval. But the product reflected the leader’s thoughts, and they gave it their stamp. This was fine for the leaders who created the vision – fine, that is, if they had created it primarily for themselves and sought guidance for their own actions through it.

Unfortunately, the visions were usually designed for others. We believed that the top should decide the culture that the middle and bottom would live by. This is the mind-set that takes the power out of vision, even though the middle and the bottom want to hear what the top has in mind. The fact that everyone wants to know the vision of the top does not make it meaningful.

Most frequently, when the group hears the vision of the leader, they are vaguely disappointed. The message designed to mobilize energy actually drains it. It is because they all read the same. I finally realized that it was the act of creating a vision that matters, not so much the content of what it was.

The second consequence of lamination was that a leader’s vision could now withstand the ravages of wind, and rain, and dark of night. That is why we laminated it: so it would last forever. That is the fallacy. A leader’s vision is not only not the point, but it is not immortal. Everyone in a group needs to struggle with the question of what kind of future they want to create, and that vision is something that is alive and open to change. Vision is more a dialogue than a declaration. It is an important conversation, a significant stretch of the imagination, and it needs to emerge as a collective work-in-progress from each unit. Once a vision is laminated, it loses its life.

With vision, there is also a major difference in setting standards and setting expectations. To have high expectations of others is to have faith in them. It is an expression of optimism and hope in the capacities of another. It is an expression of the connection between people and is experienced as support. Standard setting, as it is most commonly used to trigger change, is born not of support but of disappointment and demand.

We need to avoid planning something in a huddle that is supposed to change the behavior of others outside of the circle. We do not fix people. Our task is to stay focused on the gifts and capacities of people and what they can do about their own actions. Change and accountability occur when we live them, not preach them. Each of us wants feedback on how we are doing. But the feedback does not create the doing. While they are useful tools for measuring performance, they need to be under the control of those doing the work and need to be kept in perspective as simply one part of making change. Much of what matters cannot be measured, and our interactions need to reflect that.

No comments:

Post a Comment