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Shared Vision: Do Others See What You See? (PART 5 of Six)

April 5, 2010

Updated November 26, 2014

When we talk about shared vision, we don’t mean an idea. Instead, we’re referring to a force that is in people’s hearts. Peter Senge states: “When people truly share a vision they are connected, bound together by a common aspiration. Personal visions derive their power from an individual’s deep caring for the vision.”

Shared vision is an essential component of a learning organization because it provides the focus and energy for learning. The underlying force is the desire by people to create and accomplish something. And the bedrock, as Senge calls it, for developing shared visions is personal mastery.

Shared vision emerges from personal visions, and this is how energy is formed and commitment created. Managers must therefore walk a fine line when they express their own visions. To master the discipline of building shared vision requires that managers understand that visions are not announced from the top or that they come from strategic planning processes.

The traditional approach to creating a vision for the organization has largely failed in most organizations because employees have been unable to connect with the vision developed by management. In other words, the vision that’s communicated to employees has not built on the personal visions of others. They’re not enrolled in the vision. The consequence has typically been apathy and a lack of energy on the part of people.

Of course visions can, and indeed should, be conceived by senior managers. But senior management must realize that their vision can’t be considered ‘shared’ until others in the organization feel part of it. Their personal visions must connect with the larger vision.

Building shared vision requires daily effort by managers. It must be a central part of their work. And they must remember that the visions they develop are still their personal visions. As Senge asserts: “Just because they occupy a position of leadership does not mean that their personal visions are automatically the organization’s vision.”

Creating shared vision goes hand-in-hand with systems thinking. The latter enables people to understand what and how the organization has created. Vision portrays what people want to create. Because most managers don’t experience that they are contributing to their current reality, they have great difficulty in seeing how they can contribute to changing it. They see their problems as being caused by the system or by external factors.

This attitude, as Senge explains, “…can be elusive to pin down because in many organizations the belief ‘We cannot create our own future’ is so threatening that it can never be acknowledged.” To be a good manager (or leader) means that you are in charge of your own future. A manager (or non-manager for that matter) who openly questions the organization’s ability to accomplish what it’s attempting is quickly labeled as being not on board or as rocking the boat. The underlying cause for this occurrence is that organizations tend to be dominated by linear thinkers instead of systems thinkers.

This leads us to the final discipline: team learning. As we’ll see, team learning is all about ‘alignment’ and getting people working in synch with one another. This is where creating shared vision can be a powerful force.

The medium of leadership is the energy of other people.
– Dick Richards

Next post: Team Learning

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2010 1:14 am

    Thanks for giving a concrete example, especially one involving clients.

    I encountered something similar almost two years at the Ottawa YMCA. After being a member for over 12 years I quit in frustation, as did others. Why? Because management introduced sweeping changes and then, as an afterthought, did focus-type groups with members. But these sessions were essentially “here are the changes, what do you think?” They refused to alter anything. So I now have a great home gym.

    This was an example of a non-profit community organization with a solid history that bungled a change effort. Most of the members felt that the change was done TO them and not WITH them. They felt disrespected and not valued. Many of them went to the Goodlife across the street.

    Last I heard my former Y is very quiet. A lesson learned for management in a competitive environment. Trying to get clients back once they’re angry is very difficult.

  2. April 7, 2010 12:41 am


    I enjoyed reading about shared vision and how important it is to have employees feel like they are a part of that vision and that it isn’t just something mandated by management. I recently saw an example of what happens when employees don’t buy into the vision.

    At my gym, they recently built an addition. It was originally supposed to be two new rooms. One would be carpeted and used primarily for weightlifting classes. The other would be have a wood floor and be used for dance classes.

    At the last minute, management decided that it would be better if the two rooms were in fact one big room to give a feeling of openness, even if the flooring would be different. They told the builders to eliminate the wall between the two rooms. And they decided to invest in only one shared sound system, rather than two.

    All of the gym instructors were furious that they weren’t consulted. Now their plans to have two different classes going on simultaneously were ruined. Their anger and frustration has rippled through the gym to the point where all the members are aware of the issue.

    What could have been a really wonderful achievement, something that would have helped retain quality employees and also retain membership has instead become a blight. The instructors and the members avoid using the new added rooms. And the saddest thing about it is that the managers who made the decision aren’t even aware of the situation.

    Great article, Jim. Hopefully, the managers who read it will take your advice regarding shared vision to heart.

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