Leaders' Edge Advisor

Vol. 1, No. 4 - Creating a Shared Vision

"A vision is effective only if it is shared by those who are necessary to its implementation. In most cases, that means that the articulation of vision must be a negotiated process, in which those who will implement the vision have a voice." -Leslie H. Garner, Jr, Leadership in Human Services

Listening; A Prerequisite for Developing a Shared Vision

One of the early lessons that has stood me well throughout my career has been to listen to the hopes and dreams of all people involved in this work. From my early work in Vermont, where I developed a set of questions to ask parents of children with mental health disorders and professionals from each of the child serving agencies, to surveying potential customers of technical assistance at the national level in my federal role, listening has always been the food for developing a vision that captured people's best sense of what could be for themselves and their children. Tools to gather information to create a shared vision include:

  • Needs assessments
  • Phone calls
  • Town hall meetings
  • Strategic planning retreats
  • Advisory boards
  • Questionnaires
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups

How rare it is for people in leadership positions to actually ask stakeholders for their thoughts, hopes, dreams, likes and dislikes about the system that they work within or from which they receive services. Yet activating the whole system to support a vision means that all must feel they have had a part in its creation.

It is not a coincidence when underdog candidates who bother to knock on every door in their precincts win elections, or when System of Care leaders who go out of their way to engage all stakeholders and listen to what they want their System of Care to look like find that the system is able to sustain itself when federal grant funds end.

It is also not a surprise that when a strategic plan is developed by leadership with no input from staff, the public and key stakeholders, it meets with much resistance and ultimate failure in the implementation process. It is also not happenstance that people in public office for a period of time who do not bother to continue engaging their constituents find that when the next election comes they lose. Sometimes, as in the case of former California Governor Gray Davis, the public isn't even willing to wait until the next election! Davis admitted during the last days of his administration that he had lost touch with his constituents. Although he tried hard to recapture their support in the last weeks by holding town meetings, it turned out to be too little too late.

Why, in the face of overwhelming evidence as to its importance, do we still move ahead without stakeholder input and plan with so little engagement from those whose opinions should matter the most? Here are some things to consider.

  • The work shifts from gathering input from people leading to a shared vision to implementing the vision that was developed. A shared vision is not static or a one- time exercise. It needs refreshing. Keep pushing for ideas, thoughts and new dreams from those whom the system will impact. Strategic planning retreats should be an annual event in any system or organization that wants to continue to grow together.
  • Creating a shared vision is the work of leaders and few jobs speak to the roles and responsibility of leadership. Most leadership positions are defined within the parameters of management. Managers responsible for an organization, company or system must insist that strategic planning be a continual part of their work. In actuality, you will be doing a favor to your supervisors or boards because keeping a shared vision alive by consistently going out to stakeholder groups and asking them what they want from your organization, system or company produces a higher likelihood that you will deliver a product that the customers want to receive.
  • The competing forces of the workday, with too much to do in too little time, make it tempting to fall into the notion that we heard from our constituent groups not long ago and we can move forward year after year without nurturing the original shared vision; or, even worse, leaders believe that they know what people want and don't need to keep going out to seek their input. Leaders must do their own strategic thinking. You need to take a retreat with yourself around what you want to accomplish in a given year. Part of that yearly strategy needs to be how you are going to keep in touch with those who benefit from your efforts. What are their hopes and dreams for the system/organization/company that you represent? What do they like and dislike about your products, services and interactions with them?

Great leaders will tell you that most of their best ideas are not really theirs at all. Rather, they came from people committed to what the organization, system or company stands for. Stakeholders were asked to share their thoughts, hopes and dreams of what could be and the leaders listened! It's that simple, and yet remains one of the most challenging aspects of the work we do. Frederick Law Olmstead, renowned designer of Central Park and the “father” of landscape architecture in this country once said, “…before you build anything design it and then when you build it build it for generations to come.” I would add that when you design your system; first seek the dreams of as many people as possible that have a stake in what you build. Your reward will be a shared vision that is almost impossible to destroy.

Center for Community Leadership · P.O. Box 3069, Burlington, VT 05408-3069
ph: 802-863-9132 fax: 802-863-6586 · info@centerforcommunityleadership.com

Copyright 2005 Gary De Carolis. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

Printer-friendly version.

VT Nonprofit Web Design