Friday, June 7, 2013

Two Types of Vision

I want to prefix this blog posting by saying that it may be a little rich in metaphors.
If you feel that they are overdone, I would like to apologize in advance.  But I wanted to
take a few moments to jot down some thoughts on vision.  Now by vision I mean the process
by which people or organizations develop a long term strategy for fulfilling their mission. I
am going to label these two flavors of vision Herd Vision and Leader Vision.

Consider for a moment how most herd animals operate.  Their mission is simple; they want to find food and water and avoid being eaten by predators.  Now in order to find food and water they must move about the landscape from opportunity to opportunity avoiding predators along the way.  So what do most of the herd animals do?  They stare at the rump in front of their face and follow it.  Wherever it goes, they go.  I call this Herd Vision.

This strategy works most of the time especially when the rump at the head of the herd belongs to a good leader who is not heading straight for a cliff.  Now the leader of the herd uses a different kind of vision.  For the leader there is no rump.  Or put another way the rump they stare at is the blue sky at the horizon.  Actually, to be successful, they also have to be alert to all the points in between. The leader is using what I call Leader Vision.

Now lets examine how this translates to the political process.  Consider the candidate who wins an election by effectively leveraging social media for the first time in an election and manages to totally crush his opponent.  This candidate is using Leader Vision, or at least had the good sense to go along with someone who actually had Leader Vision. 

Yes, I am talking about Obama.  I may not like much of what he has done since he got into office but I can't help but respect the way that he got there ahead of so many of the members of his party who had seniority.  He may be a horrible representative of our nation's best interests, but he is a damn fine politician none the less.

Now consider what we are seeing 5 or so years, and one term later.  We have Republicans saying "boy, we need to learn from Obama and adopt the same strategies."...Ya think?!!  But what are they really doing except sticking their noses in close proximity to Obama's rump and simply plodding along?  In other words, the Republican decision makers are using Herd Vision.  Which as I said before is perfectly fine as long as the rump they want us to follow is not leading us over a cliff.

Here is a clue, if you want to want to be the leader you can't do it by simply following the leader.  You need to take your eyes off the rump in front of you, put your eyes on the horizon,  pick a new direction and then start walking.  As soon as you do this with confidence and certainty then some of the herd will follow you, because it is instinctive to do so. Does this act in and of itself make you a leader?  No, but it starts the process.

If you are able to find food and water, and avoid predators while you travel in your new direction, then over time your tiny herd will grow.  Eventually if you manage to do this for long enough you will end up with a large herd and then you will be The Leader.

Most leaders practice what I term as Ordinary leadership.   In ordinary leadership, you have someone who was a good follower at one point in the past.  They followed the leader but had the good sense to take their eyes off the rump in front of them long enough to look around them and see where they were being led.  Eventually these leaders learn the routes and paths that their leader have been leading themselves so well that when the leader becomes to old to lead, they are able to take over and lead the heard around the same trails as they had been following for many seasons.

Ordinary leadership works very well, in circumstances where the landscape remains unchanged.  The watering holes are in predictable places, the wolf packs roam the same territories, and the grazing fields have not all been burned up or dried out from drought.  However, ordinary leadership does not work in a changing landscape. 

Contrast this with Visionary Leadership.  Visionary leaders typically don't follow the herd very well.  They are imbued with a sense of originality that inexorably drives them to seek out new paths and routes.  A successful Visionary Leader is able to actually navigate a changing landscape and even thrive in it.  Why? Because they are able to find new watering holes when the old ones have dried up.  They are able to perceive new threats and dangers to their herd even in unfamiliar territory.

If you are not a leader but want to know which leader you should follow then you can apply the following heuristic to solve your dilemma.  If times are not changing and the climate is stable from season to season then you are better off following an Ordinary Leader because they are most likely to follow the tried and true paths which have shown themselves to be beneficial to the herd.  On the other hand if things are unstable and the climate is changing then you had better start looking for a Visionary leader, or one day you and the herd you run with will be nothing but bleached bones in a parched dessert.

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