Who creates the vision?

In Learning to Lead, leadership guru Warren Bennis claimed there are four competencies of leadership.

  1. Mastering the context.
  2. Knowing yourself.
  3. Creating a powerful vision.
  4. Communicating with meaning.

Although all four of these competencies have a different flavor for CoLeaders than traditional leaders, the one that I find most challenging is creating a powerful vision. This assumes a top-down approach to leadership and followership. I sense that one element of the crisis of leadership and followership is this self-centered approach.

The culture is changing.

Take President Obama for example. In 2008 masses of young people rallied to support his candidacy in part because of his message, “Change we can believe in.” His book, The Audacity of Hope, also inspired people. Obama’s vision was broad and bold. His followers wanted to hope that things would change. But did they?

I try not to criticize any singular human being, especially someone serving as The President of the United States. President Obama made promises that the political system did not allow him to keep. He has been transformed by the personal responsibility he has borne as President.

However, has Obama really changed much of anything in our culture? Yes, the economy has recovered (in some ways). The rich got richer. The bankers benefitted the most. Democracy is even more threatened than it was before 2008. Voting rights are more restrictive. Women’s’ reproductive freedoms have lost ground in many parts of our country. Racism is more visible.

What happened to the millions of young people who joined the Obama for President movement? Did some of them end up joining the occupy Wall Street movement? Will they vote for the next Democrat candidate?

Will they vote for Hillary Clinton?  Personally, I doubt it. They may not vote at all.

In the past eight years a growing minority of our culture has become increasingly cynical about leaders, politics, and institutions. How do we shift this cynicism into activism?

In the past, I have been the leader effectively casting a vision for others to follow. I learned valuable lessons. If I have positional power and cast a vision, even if people follow that vision, it is only effective as long as I succeed as the leader. As someone who disrupts and undermines hierarchies, I cannot count on maintaining positional authority. Those who have power over me replace me because I threaten the hierarchy. The next person in the position does not sustain my vision – they cast their own vision.

I am certain other leaders will continue to cast their own vision and expect others to follow. This style of leadership may continue to dominate our culture for the remainder of my lifetime.  I hope this is not the case.

I recommend that people with an interest in transforming organizations or systems read, The Three Laws of Performance. Although the book focuses primarily on transforming organizations and contexts, it is also an excellent book for people interested in collaborative leadership.

The Three Laws of Performance also has three leadership corollaries. One is particularly pertinent to a conversation about vision. “Leaders listen for the future of their organization.” This flips the conventional wisdom about leadership and vision upside down. Leaders don’t cast the vision. Leaders don’t create the future of their organization. Leaders listen.

What conventional wisdom teaches – leaders must create and then cast the vision – is outdated and ineffective.

What if the world really needs a good listening to? What if people inside any organization have a great deal to contribute to the future of the organization? What if collective leadership is the best way to deal with a complex, volatile, and uncertain world?

CoLeaders listen for the future. We believe that the future can be better than the present. Yet, CoLeaders are not so arrogant that they think their vision is the only answer to the needs of the world (or even our family, workplace, or community needs).

We are each just one piece in a giant puzzle that can create a more beautiful, just, compassionate, peaceful, and sustainable world. I am just one piece. I do not have the complete picture.

Our CoLeader Connection is a place where we can bring our small pieces of the global vision together. Together we will listen for a more beautiful and compassionate future.

Feel free to share your piece of the vision in the comments.




Leading from the Fringe: Part four

Since I returned to Montana in 2012, our economy has been stronger than most states.  We are beneficiaries of the natural gas ‘fracking’ boom, and China’s demand for our cheap coal exports.  I remember the decades when communities in Eastern Montana were desperate for any kind of job.  They were recruiting factory cattle feed lots that other states were banning because of water and air quality concerns.  More than one community had fallen victim to fraudulent promises that if they would just build an industrial park, the corporations would come.  Like the rainmakers of the past, the con artists would come dancing into the town, in fancy suits driving expensive cars, and leave with tens of thousands of dollars of the community’s hard earned money.  Desperate for jobs, they were easy prey for the charlatans. 

Now the energy companies have come to deliver these rural communities from their decline with promises of high paying jobs and attractive royalty payments for land owners.  Worker shanty towns (mobile home parks) reminiscent of past boom times have popped up.  Schools are over-crowded, streets are falling apart, law enforcement is spread too thin.  Rapes, assaults, thefts, and murders have multiplied (increased by 32%).  Men (and a very few women) are commuting from hundreds of miles away, sometimes even from other states, sending their money back home to their family.  The communities got their high paying jobs, but they lost their sense of community and safety. 

Meanwhile in Western Montana, environmentalists and liberals are highly critical of the energy (fossil fuel) economy.  There are protests and demonstrations to end the massive numbers of coal trains, and to educate citizens about the dire environmental effects of fracking and burning coal (even if the coal is burned in China).  Many of the protesters are employed in the public sector, education, knowledge workers, or have retirement incomes.  They don’t understand the trials and tribulations of the unemployed, or the long term economic challenges facing rural communities.  It is hard to convince people in Eastern Montana that we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels when jobs in the energy sector are the only jobs they can find that will allow them to feed their children and pay their rent. 

The Montana Legislature reconvenes this week in Helena.  They only gather every other year for approximately 90 days.  I am constantly frustrated with the divisiveness of Montana’s politics.  I have worked with small business owners.  I have started and owned businesses, and borrowed money to make payroll for employees.  I have also felt the shame and marginalization of unemployment.  I know what it is like to watch the community that you grew up in, that you love, wither away with little or no hope for the future.  I understand the dilemma of knowing in my soul what is right and what is wrong, but feeling compelled to continue working in a place that does not align with my morals because I have to pay my mortgage and put food on the table. 

In my heart I know that we (liberals and conservatives) are more alike than we are different.  We care about our families, and our communities.  We are trying to make ends meet.  Some of us blame the government, others blame the poor, and some blame capitalism and corporations.  We all participate in the systems that are not working.  We are all responsible for working together to create new possibilities for a brighter future.  We have to learn how to disagree with respect and to treat people with dignity, regardless of their position in our social hierachy. 

I feel a sense of urgency to express myself as a leader through writing and public speaking.  I also fear the consequences of writing about injustice in the face of power.  And there are two competing voices in my head:  I am NOT a writer, and I should be a writer.  What if I write and no one wants to read what I have written?  Is that senseless, useless?  Should I be doing more productive things, like being a ‘real’ leader with positional authority? Should I be more concerned about my own retirement, how I am going to make ends meet?  Do I want a job, and a salary with benefits?  Or am I ready to take a risk again, and do something creative?  Can I create my own employment, and by doing so become a role model for others?