The Most Compelling Leadership Vision

A distinguished woman rose to speak in the front of a room of 40 fellow employees during a Total Leadership workshop I was conducting earlier this week at a large pharmaceutical company's headquarters.

"Joyous laughter — this is the sound I hear throughout the home I have built and now maintain for mentally ill women in Puerto Rico. They are surrounded by people who love and care for them. They are enjoying life."

Juana, let's call her, was telling the brief (one-minute) story of her personal leadership vision; a description of the impact you're having on your world and the legacy you're creating 15 years from now. When Juana sat down, one of her close colleagues said, "I've known you so long yet I never knew about this part of who you are. Wow!" I couldn't help but ask Juana how I could support her pursuit of her vision. All of us were moved, and felt inclined to contribute.
The time flew as one speaker followed another in this exercise, undertaken by my students and clients to help them act with authenticity by clarifying what's important as a leader in all parts of life.

A useful personal leadership vision — one that focuses action, provides direction, and inspires your stakeholders in all parts of life to move in a direction you choose — is a compelling image of an achievable future. In my book and in a previous post I detailed how you can develop your own personal leadership vision. Telling others a one-minute version of it is a powerful tool for unearthing your real passions and thereby increasing your capacity as a leader.

After hearing a set of examples, I then ask the whole group to describe what was inspiring in what was just said and heard. Invariably, it is the people who speak not about their own achievement but, rather, about how they're helping someone else who draw the most powerful emotional responses and pronounced support.

Having heard many personal vision statements in the last few days, in different groups (including, through an interpreter, securities industry executives visiting The Wharton School from China), I was struck, once again, by the power of this very this simple, yet critically important idea. Serve others and others will want to serve you. This paradox is often difficult to grasp, especially in your early years. Yet is seems to be a universal truth: People are more likely to pay attention to you — and they are more inclined to help you — when you declare yourself committed to serving others.

Try it now
To grow as a leader you must have a personal leadership vision. Compose a draft of yours, practice telling it to others, and revise it to ensure that it's both really true and truly inspiring. I'd welcome your report back (with a comment below) about the impact of your doing so on yourself and on the important people in your life.

Take it further
Ask your colleagues at work to do the same and then share your personal leadership visions among yourselves. You'll likely find that trust builds as you become more aware of what really drives each other, and you'll be better equipped to capitalize on a critical, often overlooked, aspect of diversity: the remarkable variety that exists in the aspirations of the people around you.

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