Bernie Anderson
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the blog

Current musings, whatever they may be. 

Lead. Don't Abduct.

Don't take people where they don't want to go.


That's not leadership. That's abduction.

Yet, it happens inside organizations. More often than it should.

Leadership has a vision. The vision gets plastered on the wall (or the letterhead, or a business card, or foreheads). The assumption is people will get on board the train. Or get left behind.

There is a misalignment.

When we detect vision misalignment in any organization, it's important to determine the epicenter of the problem. This will require time, question asking and listening, empathy, and more time. Here are the possible conclusions:

You have the right vision and the wrong people

The solution could be the "get on board or get left behind" ultimatum. We often go there with too much speed.

The problem could also be you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you need to find a new place to lead. I've seen tragic situations where the leader makes the ultimatum and completely ruins an organization. If there's no buy-in to your vision, you may need to do more vision casting work. Or you may need to be the one to find a new tribe.

You have the right people, wrong vision.

Vision and agenda are not the same things. Vision is a well-imagined future under a common purpose. Agenda is my plans for this organization centered around my own ego. Be sure you are calling people to a vision and not an agenda. If no one is getting on board, it could be because it's the wrong train, going to the wrong place.

You have the right people - and the vision is great.

Now you have to lead. Begin practicing the subtle art of vision casting. As I hone my own thinking on this subject, three things seem important.

Speculate what's possible. Out loud.

This is a little scary. As a verbal processor, I am often vigilant and circumspect with out-loud speculation and ideating. Free expression has brought trouble for me in toxic work environments. But, your own tribe should be a safe place for this. As you speculate, encourage others to do the same. Words give ideas substance. Sometimes it takes a little time for the substance to form. But, working together, we can craft a beautiful, imagined future - all under common good and purpose.

Do deep listening, find out what's important to others.

This is why listening is important. Your vision and my vision alone is incomplete. Sometimes we think vision casting is all on leadership. While it does fall under leadership's responsibility, the process is corporate. And deeply empathetic. Listen well. Take notes. The best ideas will not be yours.

Make peace with ambiguity.

During this process, things may be messy. Meetings may lack clarity. People (including you) will have incoherent ideas. Deal with it. It's part of the process. Move through the ambiguity by trusting the process. People are not dumb. You are not dumb. But the work of vision casting done well yields a lot of unformulated thought. There will be nuggets that turn out to be gold. But everyone must be okay with a time of untidy ambiguity.

Crafting vision as a shared process. And it's the only way to prevent unintentional (and at times intentional) abductions.

Lead with vision. Not with an agenda.