We tend to make a big fuss over the leader “who has vision”. I agree, it is important to establish a general direction regarding where one thinks one should head, but beyond that, the vision and strategic plan thing is mostly fantasy. Conditions are changing too quickly. We can’t predict the future. We have to put a future stake in the ground, or place a bet on the future, but not much beyond that. The value of a future definition is just context for what we should be responding to in the present.
What we should be doing, and we don’t, is recruit and reward the leaders who value and know how to set up an agile system which includes an agile senior team, and an agile working culture. Agility comes from the ability to pay attention to the here and now, registering the signals that are coming into the system, knowing how to bring them to the attention of the team and socially interact around these signals to create an intelligent response. Another key signal for a leader is registering new information about their own reputation, how they are seen by others and the impression they are actually creating, versus the one they thought they were. So a precondition for agility is not being overly attached to the status quo. Part of the status quo is the Vision and strategic plan. Another part is a leader’s historical view of themselves. Are the leaders open to changing themselves and the plan, based on these new signals coming in, either about the competitive environment, their organization or themselves as a human being and leader.
Our organizations would be a lot further ahead if we placed less emphasis on the vision thing, and more emphasis on the leader who was personally committed to learning, rather than already knowing, and able to create a system that showed more humility in the face of reality, flexibility, agility and quick response when confronted with new and challenging information.
Perhaps the key question we need to ask ourselves when recruiting and developing leaders, is not whether they have a vision or not, but how open and responsive to personal and organizational learning and change they are?
I wrote a much longer paper on this topic, but like often, a few weeks later, the essence of my point hits. Essentially this is what I was trying to say.