Envision the Future

Envision the Future

The most important role of vision in organizational life is to give

focus to human energy. To enable everyone concerned with an

enterprise to see more clearly what’s ahead of him or her, you

must have and convey an exciting, ennobling vision of the fu-

ture. The path to clarity of vision begins with reflecting on the

past, moves to attending to the present, and then goes pros-

pecting into the future. And the guardrails along this path are

your passions—what it is that you care about most deeply.

Although you have to be clear about your own vision before

you can expect others to follow, you need to keep in mind that

you can’t effectively, authentically lead others to places they

personally don’t want to go. If the vision is to be attractive to

more than an insignificant few, it must appeal to all who have

a stake in it. Only shared visions have the magnetic power to sustain commitment over time. Listen to the voices of all your

constituents; listen for their hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

And because a common vision spans years and keeps everyone

focused on the future, it has to be about more than a task or

job. It has to be a cause, something meaningful, and something

that makes a difference in people’s lives. Whether you’re leading

a small department of ten, a large organization of ten thousand,

or a community of a hundred thousand, a shared vision sets the

agenda and gives direction and purpose to the enterprise.

To Inspire a Shared Vision, you must envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities. This means you have to


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• Determine what you care about, what drives you, where

your passions lie.

• Make a list of all the things you want to accomplish, and

ask yourself “Why?”

• Use your past experiences as clues for understanding key

themes in your life and understanding what you find


• Be curious about what is going on around you—

especially things that aren’t working well.

• Ask “What’s next?” about every project long before it is


• Spend time thinking and finding out about the future.

• Listen to your constituents about what is important to their future.

• Involve others in crafting what could be possible; don’t

make it a top-down process.

• Weave together your own hopes and dreams with those of

your constituents.

• Get people on the same page, the same path, about

where you all are going.

• Elevate what you and others are doing from a job to a


Use The Leadership Challenge Mobile Tool app to immediately integrate these activities into your life and make

this practice an ongoing part of your behavioral repertoire.


SALVATORE SARNO CAME TO South Africa from Italy at the age of nineteen and eventually became chairman of MSC South Africa, a privately owned container shipping line and one of the leading carriers in the world. His leadership story, however, is not a corporate one; rather he made an entire nation excited about his dream that South Africa would be the first African team to race in the most important sailing competition in the world, the America’s Cup.1 He wanted to give people who grew up in difficult conditions the chance to represent the pride of their nation in front of the world, to show that with passion you could overcome other problems like lack of budget or experience.

His dream sounded a bit crazy to the people with whom he first shared it, but Salvatore merged his passions for sailing and for South Africa into a common purpose for the nation and for the African people. Those who’d yearned to realize a dream from the time they first sailed into Cape Town Bay and those who were raised in places like Durban were suddenly given a chance to be part of something

Enlist Others

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G E grand—something that gave them a new reason to train, to improve,

and to commit to a meaningful cause. They would have the oppor- tunity to make history.

Salvatore did what all exemplary leaders do. He looked forward and talked about what could be. He painted a picture of the future so that others could see what was possible. He shared his passion and enthusiasm with the people around him. It was infectious, and one young man remembered how Salvatore used to tell him nearly a decade before the race: “Imagine the underdog South African boat with his mixed white and black crew sailing head to head with the strongest team of the world. This is the World Cup of sailing, and we are going to play this game sooner or later!”

The team’s name, Shosholoza, means “go forward, make your road, forge ahead”—an acknowledgment of the dedication to pursue excellence, especially when doing so is a challenge. The spirit of the Shosholoza project was all about doing something unique. In his speeches to his team, Salvatore would stress that it was “an opportunity to show that all South Africa’s citizens can work together, do well and have success together. In essence it is an opportunity to be part of the African renaissance.”2 His appeals enlisted the team in a noble endeavor to make history for their country, got them to believe in the possibility, motivated them to work even harder than they could imagine, and built their pride in being the best they could be. And for Salvatore, like all leaders who enlist others in a common vision, it all came down to something fairly simple and straightforward: having a passion for making a difference in people’s lives.

In 2007, Shosholoza took part in the America’s Cup Race, a remarkable achievement in itself, considering that only twelve coun- tries were represented. Despite a significantly lower budget and less experience than the other teams, Shosholoza held its own, achieving

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some amazing victories in the heads-up challenges against giants like Luna Rossa and Mascalzone Latino before eventually placing sixth at the final round in Valencia.

In the personal-best leadership cases we collected, people talked about the need to get everyone on board with a vision and to Enlist Others in a dream, just as Salvatore did. They had to communicate and build support for the direction in which the organization was headed. These leaders knew that in order to make extraordinary things happen, everyone had to fervently believe in and commit to a common purpose.

Part of enlisting others is building common ground on which everyone can agree. But equally important is the emotion that leaders express for the vision. Our research shows that in addi- tion to expecting leaders to be forward-looking, constituents expect their leaders to be inspiring. People need vast reserves of energy and excitement to sustain commitment to a distant dream. Leaders are expected to be a major source of that energy. People aren’t going to follow someone who’s only mildly enthusiastic about something. Leaders have to be wildly enthusiastic for constituents to give it their all.

Whether you’re trying to mobilize a crowd in the grandstand or one person in the office, to Enlist Others you must act on these two essentials:

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