Diary of a Knowledge Broker by Steve Bosserman

Independent investigation of the truth; collaboration for social justice

Independent investigation of the truth; collaboration for social justice

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February 13, 2006

Vision 101

Leaders prompt alignment. With alignment comes a flow of human energy and creativity that advances whatever cause is underway. Through this flow endeavors deemed important are initiated, actions are taken, and change occurs within a proposed framework.

Alignment is produced in three ways: integrity, vision, and fear – greed (see previous posting). Leaders lead because of their ability to draw upon at least one of these three dimensions "…in the exercise of power within a social system to produce alignment." Of course, the greater the skills leaders have in more than one dimension, the more fluid their movement from one dimension to another as circumstances warrant, and ultimately, the more effective they will be.

Leaders who can exercise more than one dimension possess the wherewithal to use "vision" as a way to both inspire and motivate. While somewhat synonymous, the terms "inspire" and "motivate" represent a critical duality that is central to the importance of vision in the repertoire of tools used by effective leaders. Inspiration originates when there is sufficient detachment from what is or a future extrapolated from what was to see possibilities otherwise missed. Motivation is fueled by an expectation of comfort when that which is feared is dismissed and the stress of achievement is diminished. Leaders are able to use inspiration and motivation at the right time and in the correct context to build momentum and keep the flow going.

The diagram below illustrates the dual nature of vision. As an organization, represented by the green triangle, moves through time toward an endpoint on the horizon, it passes through its "vision," illustrated by the yellow circle, of what it anticipates it will become or what will influence it. Philosophical ideals and spiritual values pre-date and eclipse the organization and provide a guiding moral framework that is timeless in its relevance and significance.


While the pursuit of abstractions such as peace, justice, love, and freedom is a source of inspiration, it lacks the type of structured approach required to convert the obtuse into the actionable. At some point people benefit from a clear picture of what can be reasonably expected after a finite period during which people invest their time, energy, and resources to have the intended results. Vision in this practical sense relates to the mission of a project, goals and objectives of an organization, and the "nuts and bolts" details of strategies and tactics required to complete the mission. But it is not the simple restatement of these elements a la Dilbert. Instead, it is a story told that depicts what reality might look like if the mission is completed successfully.

Just as leadership is about alignment, vision is about change—seeing it, relating to it, describing it and making it happen. Leaders who are in command of the tools of vision tell stories that inspire people at their higher levels of functioning and motivate them to take necessary action in giving practicality to that which is dreamed. Great leaders are involved; they embody the changes they are attempting to influence rather than remaining aloof and attempting to control them remotely.

A significant part of the story a powerful leader tells is not only in words but by example in deed. The leader espouses the principle in clear wording, such as the following extract from Dr. Martin Luther King's speech delivered to more than 250,000 on August 28, 1963 in Washington, DC:

"I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."

It's no wonder Dr. King could lead thousands—he posited the principles as a dream worth striving for, outlined the very trying and difficult steps that would have to be taken to make the dream reality, walked the talk hand-in-hand with others, and put his life on the line to stand tall in what he believed possible for his country and its people.

Of course, Dr. King was a "student" of another great leader in this respect, Mahatma Gandhi. The following extract from a brief biography on Gandhi's life by B.R. Nanda sums up the compelling nature of a leader who strikes a dynamic balance between the philosophical and the practical:

"His genius, so to speak, was an infinite capacity for taking pains in fulfillment of a restless moral urge. His life was one continuous striving, an unremitting sadhana, a relentless search for truth, not abstract or metaphysical truth, but such truth as can be realized in human relations. He climbed step by step, each step no bigger than a man's, till when we saw him at the height he seemed more than a man. 'Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe', wrote Einstein, 'that such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.' If at the end he seemed like no other man, it is good to remember that when he began he was like any other man."

The result of his strong stands on principle and living the life of change—being the change—was a key factor in India gaining independence. His strict adherence to the concept of non-violence and non-resistance sets a stellar example for others to follow in their struggles with freedom and justice. And the lessons of his life continue to inform and influence generations of Indians as they build on the foundation of self-determination he laid and propel his beloved country into prominence as an economic and political global powerhouse.

The Dalai Lama, political leader of the Tibetan government in exile and spiritual guide for thousands of people around the world, offers yet another powerful example of vision in the ethereal married with the practical. Below is a extract from his commentary entitled, "A Human Approach to World Peace":

"Science and technology, though capable of creating immeasurable material comfort, cannot replace the age-old spiritual and humanitarian values that have largely shaped world civilization, in all its national forms, as we know it today. No one can deny the unprecedented material benefit of science and technology, but our basic human problems remain; we are still faced with the same, if not more, suffering, fear, and tension. Thus it is only logical to try to strike a balance between material developments on the one hand and the development of spiritual, human values on the other. In order to bring about this great adjustment, we need to revive our humanitarian values."

Again, overarching philosophical ideals and spiritual principles are associated with the conundrum of daily issues that plague humanity. The Tibet issue is one of three commitments made by the Dalai Lama wherein he gives unwavering focus. It is in this arena on the world stage that principle is carried into action for all to see and learn. This is vision in its purest form. No one can ask more of a leader than that!


posted by Steve Bosserman on Monday February 13 2006

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