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Shared Vision: Do Others See What You See?

March 4, 2018


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.

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Building shared vision requires daily effort by managers. It must be a central part of their work. And they need to 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’re 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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