Vision. There’s no doubt it’s important. As an eyeglass-wearing photographer, I frequently think about the importance of being able to see.
One of the most common attributes ascribed to leadership is having a vision. I wholeheartedly agree that having a sense of where to go is a valuable group resource.
I just don’t think it’s the sole purview of leadership.
A few months ago, I was driving on I-5 in Northern California. Nothing particularly remarkable: just a long stream of cars and semi-trucks (lorries) in front, with me following on behind.
But then, the leaders of the pack, the trucks in front, moved out of the way.
While a smartphone photo from a moving vehicle will never do a landscape justice, you can perhaps appreciate how my view changed compared with the previous scene.
From a boxed-in, following blindly experience, I began to experience some vision: a wide-open vista, with Mt Shasta beckoning on the horizon!
As a follower, it wasn’t so important for me to just see the leader, but rather to directly experience the vision that was out in front of us. Even though the truckers, with their elevated position, may have been able to view the mountain from many miles back down the highway, their vision did nothing for fueling my own engagement with the journey. Not until I could see for myself was there energy and enthusiasm to engage and keep going.
Should leaders have vision? Certainly. But so should followers, too. And ideally, it should be the same vision! A common purpose which unites the roles of leadership and followership, providing mutual encouragement and participation resulting in effective contribution for the accomplishment of the group’s endeavor.
Having initially seen Mt Shasta only through my leader’s exhaust fumes on the highway, I was then able to further refine my vision, to engage and produce in a new way. Rather than having nothing more than a smartphone snapshot, I could bring my own time, resources, creativity, and presence to enhance the vision into something that feels more worthwhile.
Here now was Mt Shasta with more vibrancy, clarity, more evident beauty. And both I and the world would have missed out if the leaders didn’t yield a bit of space so that I could have firsthand experience of the vision.
I once attended a church meeting where it was stated that it was only through the church leadership that a vision for the church’s work would come. My heart sank. Even years before I engaged in thinking about followership, I knew that such a perspective would only serve to alienate most of the congregation, and would surely limit the quality of vision and engagement in the months ahead.
While leaders may be initiators of vision, and they should be advocates of vision, if they become withholders of vision, roadblocks to vision, then followers will not feel so much like they are being led but rather that they are being toyed with: someone is playing with them, using them as pawns without explaining the aim of the game.
Such an approach will never lead to an environment that facilitates excellent followership, nor will it lead to the development of vision (not to mention the achievement of it) that can result from bringing the whole group truly on board.
I’ve written before on the notion of Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way; even when leading, you will need to step aside from time to time, inviting others in so that they can directly experience all that we are working toward for themselves, and thus being able to benefit from the mutual enthusiasm and clarity that results.
If it takes faith to move a mountain, why would any leader want to restrict others from seeing the whole mountain and thus limit the available resources to merely his own faith?
For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following and leading with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:
Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Feb 2016), and A Discussion Guide for Teams & Small Groups (Dec 2017) —