A leader radiates commitment throughout her environment, painting a vision of the future – indispensable to employee engagement. Of course, managers also have visions, albeit ones differing from those of leaders in one major aspect – a manager’s vision is more rational, more in terms of a goal, while a leader’s vision is a clear directive on the future. Here’s an example:

When a system catering business intends to increase its number of restaurants to 200 in Germany, a dedicated manager immediately begins to calculate numbers and compile data in her mind.

In a leader’s mind’s eye, an entire vista unfolds, depicting the business’s successful future. She visualizes it; is emotionally inspired by it, and this emotion, this passion, is what galvanizes her enthusiasm. And this enthusiasm infects her employees, until each one has their own unclouded vision of, in this case, opening the 200th restaurant. Or in the words of the French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders (manager). Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea (leader).”

The manager’s primary question is, “What do we want to achieve?” The leader poses a different key question, “Why do we want to achieve this?” The leader’s drive to visualize the answer to this question himself, before infusing her employees with purpose, allows them, too, to find the answer to the question, “Yes, why are we doing this?” – this is what we call Dedication.

Every vision takes shape personally and individually. A vision cannot be handed down or passed on from a superior or colleague without reflecting on its content. A vision must suit me to a tee, otherwise, it has no power.

Realizing this was an enormous relief to Natalia, a leader at a midsized metal working and surface technology company. When we asked her what her vision was at the beginning of our coaching, she was visibly discomfited, replying, “I was afraid you would ask me that. These damned visions plague me…I’m constantly asked about my vision, but I haven’t the foggiest idea what I should say. I just don’t have one, although everyone’s supposed to have a vision, at least that’s what people say. It’s so embarrassing. All my colleagues can reel off their visions at the drop of a hat – house, Porsche, boat – I’m the only one who’s clueless. It’s one of my major failings. Without a vision, I don’t know which direction to take, right?”

The first two misconceptions we cleared out of Natalia’s way was that a vision didn’t have to be earth-shaking, and that it was primarily a deeply personal view. We then asked her to think about the following questions, leaving a pause after each one. Why do I go to work every day? – What does my work give me? – Why do I accept all the stress and extra hours? – Why do I carry this load so willingly? We could see Natalia cogitating and then, beaming, she suddenly exclaimed, “If that’s the case, then I do have a vision!” She then told us that her major motivation was to give her daughter a good education. “You see, I also went to college, but it was hard road, full of privations. My father died when I was young, and money was always incredibly tight. So, I really had to fight my way through to get where I am today. I want it to be easier for my daughter. I want her to be able to concentrate solely on her studies without constantly worrying about money.”

For Natalia, this conversation was both enlightening and a great relief. She realized she didn’t lack anything at all. She had always had a vision, she just didn’t know it by name. She was convinced (or had been convinced) that a vision had to be something huge, a holiday home on the Virgin Islands, at the very least! She had been so busy comparing herself with her colleagues, she forgot to focus on herself and her individual situation. It became clear to her that a good, unburdened education for her daughter was reason enough to go to work each day. And if that’s not something huge, we don’t know what is.

When it comes to visions, companies like to think in Olympic dimensions, higher! faster! further! Whether it’s right for the company or its employees is often disregarded. Thus, we often hear visions like, “We will lead the market by the end of the year!” or “We will double our workforce over the next five years, earning the highest returns on the sector!”

Still, a vision can also be to lead a successful enterprise where happy, satisfied employees find their professional homeland. The strategy extracted from this vision could be, “We will remain mid-sized, even in the future. Expanding would also mean adopting corporate structures, at the cost of our familial environment. Hence, expansion could easily mean we could no longer ensure that our workers feel at home here.” Too simple? Too sentimental? Not ambitious enough? Why not?

Source: Workbook Dedication – Dedication to the work at hand, with heart and soul, 24 hours a day (© 2018 Gianni, Jan & Marcello Liscia)