Leaders Enable the Vision of Others

April 4, 2013

Vision. It’s a tricky thing.

Extremely important, yet sometimes elusive and hard to pin down.

Without it, an organization is lost. But with competing visions, an organization is doomed to frustration. One person says to go left and another says to go right, and it doesn’t take long for everyone to be confused. Vision and clarity have to be driven by the senior leaders of the organization. Those with the authority and responsibility need to set the course and direction for everyone to follow.

BUT, vision also needs to be fostered from the bottom up. A healthy organization draws the best out of its people and creates an environment for them to dream and add momentum to the vision.

If I’m honest, this makes me nervous; all sorts of insecurities rise to the surface. What if their “dream” doesn’t fit my plan? What if they can do it better than I can? What if they take the team in the wrong direction? What if they abuse the freedom and trust to ultimately hurt the team? What if they aren’t thankful or appreciative?

As a leader, what do you do with other people’s visions?

Do you enable them? Or do you squash them?

There is a subtle difference between a vision-enabler and a vision-squasher. Confidence often makes the difference.

Don’t think of “enabler” in the context of an unhealthy co-dependant relationship, but rather as an encouraging coach. The person that believes in you and brings out your best. As leaders, we need to enable the visions of other people. Using your gifts and wisdom to invest in the future of your team and therefore in the future of your organization. Insecurities aside, we have the opportunity to foster positive growth in our teams.

Get behind the people you lead.

Of course, the visions our teams bring need to be aligned with the vision of the organization. But we need to draw those unique vision out of them, rather than squash it.

Have you ever heard of a leader who did not want his team invested in the vision and mission of the organization?

But all too often, leaders are the ones keeping their teams from feeling invested. I think this is because it’s easy to squash someone’s vision by instantly critiquing or cutting down their ideas. It’s easy to say “That’s never going to work. What are you thinking?”

When we squash visions, we build fear into the culture. People stop wanting to bring ideas to the table. They instead revert to doing what they’re told. They quit dreaming. They give up being excited about the vision of a company.

How to become a vision enabler:

  • Ask good questions that draw out their ideas. This gets them excited to go back and refine their idea, even if it’s not perfect.
  • Listen before you shoot down the idea. Practice silence and let them talk. Allow the possibility of supporting the idea. Even if it doesn’t work out, people on your team will come away encouraged by your openness and supportive attitude.
  • Encourage your team to think creatively. After all, when innovation is left up to only one person’s creative vision, it will lack the quality that comes only from the dynamic sharing of ideas.
  • Make room for failure. Mistakes make great teachers. Provided the mistake is not fatal, we all need the opportunity to fail and learn from the experience.

I’m not saying that you conform the ultimate vision of the organization to every person’s idea just so they feel affirmed. But I am saying that you can encourage them to help lead your organization by bringing their vision to the table. This will foster a culture of freedom and trust–one where ideas are encouraged, not always adopted, but still encouraged.

Next time a team member comes to you with an idea, how can you enable their vision? How can you get behind it? How can you draw them out?