In the film “Dead Poets Society” John Keating is played by Robin Williams. He is the literature professor that inspired his students to love poetry, think independently, love life, Carpe Diem. Keating is dismissed by a very conservative school principal due to his unorthodox teaching methods.
As Keating leaves his classroom for the last time, Anderson, one of Keating’s students, stands on his desk and pronounces the now famous “Oh captain, my captain,” affirming his own commitment to a life of authenticity while recognizing he who had lead him to that commitment.
Slowly the student is followed by others, all defying the dictatorial principal who had taken over as the poetry instructor. Eventually, nine out of 17 students will take a stand.
One can certainly postulate that Keating was a leader, that his personal vision was certainly one supportive of the organization:’ develop boys into knowledgeable and principled men, instilling a sense of purpose in them that would equip them to be all that they could going forward. Faced with major obstacles, he was forced to leave but he would leave behind germinated seed, thus his vision would endure.
Each reader will have his/her own take away about this story, from “This is what you get when you go against the system” to “Teaching and working in an organization are two different worlds, not applicable to the world of business” to “That is too much work, and I have too much to do already” to “I need to think about that and figure out how I can make it happen in some fashion with my team” to “ I get it, I am committed to that vision / I am working on it.”
What is your take-away? Consider the paragraph above as a 1-5 rating scale of your “Visionary Leadership” score.
As stated in a previous article, leadership is not for the faint at heart, one of the first and most challenging steps is the creation of a shared vision for all those that are to contribute. One cannot deliver superior results without the team buying into a common purpose, one that unites the various members.
Note I am not suggesting the creation of an “organizational vision,” I mean exactly a: team’s vision! There are many visions one can forge: organizational, departmental, team/project and personal. Organizations will typically have a stated vision.
However, such a pronouncement is often too distant for individual “units” to derive inspiration and motivation. Teams need more focus, more specificity, with an attentive leader close by. The most critical step for a leader is therefore to inspire those whose performance he has direct accountability, be they organized in a tradition or virtual teams.
That is where to start, where one must start with the most challenging deliverable for participants, the creation of their team’s vision.
As if that were not hard enough, a most recent article (“Team Spirit”, Trumpeter -Economist, March 19, 2016), has an interesting piece on the insurgence of team work: “Businesses are embracing the idea of working in teams. Managing them is hard.” The article goes on to highlight the notion that most of the teams being formed are now cross-functional teams designed not with a functional focus, but rather with a customer focus; the customer element requires added specificity and insight for the shared vision to be truly inspirational.
If step 1 is the creation of a shared vision, step 2 is to ensure that indeed it is shared. As the leader moves up the hill that has never been climbed before, is everyone there and accounted for? Is there a common sense of purpose? Ask yourself:
1. Am I clear as to my own sense of purpose, and have I communicated it to my team?
2. Do I know what the team members’ sense of purpose is? Have I asked for it?
3. What is my “draft” vision for this group?
4. Have I engaged with the team to collectively enrich my draft so to create a shared vision?
5. Is that shared vision clearly and frequently being revisited?
6. Two years from now, what specific value should that vision be adding to the organization?
The challenge is not one of complexity, the challenge is one of discipline and commitment in addressing the uncertainty (the realm of leaders) of going forward.
The biggest challenge in writing a book is to start writing: Carpe Diem!
Franco Vicino (firstname.lastname@example.org, ExecEd.dominican.edu) is executive education director at Dominican’s Barowsky School of Business.