Good Work: Inspiring a Shared Vision

The future always holds something for the individual who keeps her faith in it.

Being a leader puts you in some pretty awkward situations.  As a public school superintendent, I work for five elected board members.  They seldom agreed on where we had been or where we were headed.  As the senior administrator, my role was a search for sufficient consensus to form temporary agreements and keep moving.  Caught between those that could not agree and those that could not see, between stakeholders with very different interests and interpretations of the past, present and future, it was difficult to create a compelling picture of the future much less a bridge to get there.
Last Sunday we explored the importance of modeling the way, the first of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.  In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner say the second job of leader to is Inspire a Shared Vision:

Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. Through their magnetism and quiet persuasion, leaders enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

I spent Saturday at TEDx Manhattan Beach—a community conversation about transforming education.  It was a well organized and stimulating event made possible by a hundred volunteers.  But like most events of that sort, there were six or eight folks that that were the driving force behind the success.  These bridge builders run an education foundation and serve on the school board.  They are working hard to create a shared picture of a better place to live, learn, work, and play.
When it comes to social impact, leaders may seem downright unreasonable. Dan Epstein of the  Unreasonable Institute says “entrepreneurs who want to change the world have got to be a little crazy.
Mark Benioff, Salesforce, said, “The power of social media is that it is easier than ever to both articulate, and reinforce, the vision and values that create and inspire alignment.” (Quoted by Tom Friedman in a great column on entrepreneurship).  Social media makes it easier to connect but harder to impose.
Faith can’t be forced but insight can be fostered by bringing the outside world into the organization (or the community).  Social media can help, but there’s nothing like a community conversation.  That’s why the TEDx model is so exciting—it stimulates thought provoking community building conversations.  A shared vision doesn’t answer all the questions, but it does create conversations headed in the right direction.
The Good Work Sunday series started as journal entries while serving as a public school superintendent in the 90s.  It explores the challenges and rewards of impact focused work. 

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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