33- The Postmodern Leader: Style Three. I. Leadership through Stewardship

September 13, 2010

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

I. Leadership through Stewardship

In my previous blogs I have identified premodern, modern and postmodern versions of both Style One and Style Two Leadership. I have also introduced the premodern and modern versions of Style Three. In this blog I will describe the ways in which the third leadership style has been translated from its premodern and modern forms to the form found commonly in postmodern social systems.

While the third premodern leadership style focuses on creating a vision, the modern Style Three leader focus on creating a tangible vision and this is done through motivation, setting of specific goals and monitoring the ways in which (and extent to which) these goals are achieved within the organization. The modern organizational vision could come from the Style Three leader herself or it might be assigned to her by other people in the organization (the so-called “stakeholders”). When the third style of modern leadership is engaged in a postmodern setting, then leadership is exhibited when one furthers the vision created and embraced by other people in the organization—not just the stakeholders. This third model of postmodern leadership is truly democratic in that one becomes A SERVANT TO THE VISION of all people associated with the organization.

This concept of “servant leadership” has been portrayed in a very compelling way by Robert Greenleaf in a series of books he has written on this topic. A variant on this theme is evident in a quite different medium—the lyric of a popular song of the 1990s about “the wind beneath my wings.” This very appreciative statement offers a wonderfully poetic image of the role played by a master Style Three leader as servant to the dreams, visions and aspirations of the people with whom she works. A servant leader can provide the “wind” beneath the wings of her colleagues by first committing fully to the partnership, and then offering encouragement during difficult times.

A dedicated Style Three leader will neither hijack a colleague’s vision nor co-opt it unquestioningly, no matter one’s personal enthusiasm for the direction. While a leader may prod and provoke, she never takes over the client’s vision nor inserts her own alternative vision. As a Style Three servant leader, the value we bring is to encourage ongoing reflection on the part of our colleague regarding whether or not this is the best direction to take. We repeatedly participate with our colleague in the process of discernment—determining if the internal and external evidence that seems to be pointing our colleague in a certain direction comes from a place that is compatible with our colleague’s long-term welfare and growth. There is perhaps no more important role to play as a masterful Style Three leader than to help one’s colleague make the tough choices between the very obvious and not so obvious, between the short-term and long-term, and, in particular, between the expedient way of life and the way of personal integrity.

Clearly, this is not the “usual” form of leadership that is written about in most contemporary textbooks—even those that focus on postmodern organizations. It is a “quiet” form of leadership. It is a form of leadership that is often associated with soulfulness.

Soulfulness and Servant Leadership

Style Three postmodern leadership requires a shift from the modern proclivity to look upward and forward to attending downward and inward. This means a shift from visual to tactile modes of experience. We touch rather than look. Like the protective father in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, we embrace the people we lead and hold them safe from the storm. Movement downward is a journey through embarrassment, narcissistic wounds and loneliness. This contrasts with the journey of the spirit that is filled with inspiration, uplifting motives and great public adventures. We retreat to do soul work rather than “leaping up” to do spiritual work. In moving to soul work, we take on latrine duty or clean pots. As Style Three leaders we might even engage in the corporate equivalent to cleaning pots and latrines, namely, filling in the details, cleaning up after an event or handling a “messy” employee problem. When we are providing soulful Style Three leadership our role shifts from master to servant.

A shift from spirited (and motivating) Style Three leadership in a modern setting to soulful (and less openly demonstrative) Style Three work in a postmodern setting is difficult. We see a graphic and poetic illustration of this difficult transformation in the tale of Don Quixote. Quixote makes something special of the mundane. As an aging man he was not satisfied with the everyday. Hence he looked upward (for spiritual guidance) and backward in time (for historical guidance). He looked back to the age of chivalry and valor—a romantic era that was ending at the time Cervantes wrote his epic tale. Quixote elevates the inn’s sluttish serving girl, Aldonza, to a much higher status. She is transformed into the lady of the manor. He also restores her long-lost virginity. Quixote christens her, “Dulcinea.” Windmills become foreboding ogres. The barber’s bowl is transformed into a knight’s helmet. Don Quixote is typical of a man dominated by spiritual forces. He is moved to the spirit (“in-spiration”).

We see this dominance of spirit and the compelling nature of spirit enacted with particular force in the musical form of “The Man of La Mancha.” Don Quixote asks others to “dream the impossible dream.” Like Robert Kennedy, Quixote asks “Why not?” rather than asking “Why?” Like his older brother John, Robert Kennedy was assassinated before completing his own soul work, though clearly he was beginning the transforming journey during his short presidential campaign. Quixote was similarly denied a complete fulfillment of his own dream. This is commonly the case with modern leaders who dream great dreams. Like John and Robert Kennedy, Quixote transformed the people with whom he associated in seeking to fulfill his own dream. Quixote convinces Aldonza that her name is Dulcinea: “thy name is like a prayer an angel whispers.” Even the prisoners who hear the story of Don Quixote (as told by Cervantes, a fellow victim of the inquisition) are inspired. As the inquisitors lead Cervantes away for writing conspiratorial works, the previously depressed and downtrodden prisoners exhort him “to live with your heart striving upward.”

Reality and Narcissism

The story of Don Quixote inevitably leads to a discussion of and reflection on the role played by narcissism in the creation of leaders. To some extent, all leaders have a bit of narcissism in them. They revel to some extent in the attention they have received from other people and are pleased that other people respect, trust or at least follow the direction which they as leaders provide. The extent of narcissism will, of course, vary widely from leader to leader. At one extreme we have those leaders who can think about (or talk about) nothing other than themselves. There is the old joke (that takes many forms) regarding the narcissistic leader who spent a long time talking about himself and his many achievements. There is a pause in the conversation, at which point the narcissistic leader says “well that’s enough about me, why don’t you tell me a bit about the things that impress you most about me.” This is the extreme case of narcissism—yet it sadly is widely found in contemporary organizations. It certainly does not represent the type of generativity found in effective Style Three leaders.

There is a second type of narcissism which is somewhat less obvious. This is the “quiet” narcissism to which many of us might candidly admit. At some level we envy the accolades received by other people. We are uncomfortable being on the sidelines at events where other people are the focus of attention. We smolder a bit, though soon dismiss our resentment and join in to the celebration. This too is a form of narcissism and it can serve as a barrier to effective Style Three leadership. At these moments, we quiet narcissists can learn much about ourselves and our own leadership challenges. Like Don Quixotes, we must face our own reality.

Triumphant though Cervantes is in inspiring the other prisoners (and basking in his own theatrical glow), he ultimately requires Quixote to face reality and leave the dreams behind. Don Quixote must retreat from his narcissistic fantasy. Cervantes forced his fictional character, Don Quixote, to see himself for what he truly is. Quixote was required to look into a mirror, having lost in combat to the “Knight of the Mirrors.” This shattered his illusions and his dreams. The mirror is an instrument of vision and spirit, yet the triumphant knight is using a set of mirrors to destroy Quixote’s spirit. The knight is himself an illusion. He is actually a son-in-law of Quixote who has grown increasingly impatient with the Don’s antics.

The well-intended Knight of the Mirrors demands that the Don acknowledge he is actually an aging man of modest means. Quixote is jolted into “reality.” He has become a mad man who is dressed, not for a battle, but rather for a foolish masquerade. Like many postmodern leaders, Don Quixote is particularly vulnerable to ridicule and massive ego deflation. Ironically, we are most vulnerable precisely at the moment when we are most successful. We are balancing on a high wire and have a long way to fall. Don Quixote has gained many admirers and has won many battles against fictitious foes. He desperately wants to keep the masquerade going. His son-in-law won’t allow him to continue indulging his false spirit. When confronted with the mirrors, Don Quixote’s ego and spirit rapidly deflate. He is left an old and dying man, with neither illusion nor a will to live.


Don Quixote is thrown into depression, having suffered what psychologists call a “narcissistic wound.” He finds no support to match the challenge that he is forced to face in the mirrors. In many ways, Quixote represents the fundamental challenge of postmodern leadership. He only recovers his “sanity,” or at least his spirit, when his “support group” (consisting of Dulcinea and his sidekick Sancho Panza) come to his rescue. They offer him appreciation and encouragement. Aldonza (ne Dulcinea) is transformed, like many important people in the lives of soulful postmodern leaders. Aldonza transforms herself from the highly romanticized (and distorted) love interest and pupil of Don Quixote to the role of female guide for him. She retains her identity as Dulcinea, yet now provides the Don with a bridge between spirit and soul. Similarly, Sancho serves the critical role of male friend and companion to Don Quixote. With the assistance of Dulcinea and Sancho, Dox Quixote not only returns to his world of the spirit, he also turns inward to the world of soul. While others have learned from Don Quixote to value spirit and dreams, Quixote himself must learn about the interplay between dreams and realities. He must learn of this interplay if he is not to be the victim once again of misdirected but necessary attempts by members of his family to restore his sanity.

Like Don Quixote, we must attend to our colleagues. If we are operating in a leadership role then we must create a container for those people with whom we work. We must provide a cradle, a bowl, a chalice. Anxiety runs amuck without a container. We must become servants. We cook the meals and host the guests rather than giving the after dinner speeches. We should more often be the “power behind the throne.” As a postmodern leader we no longer have to be “the guy [or gal] in charge” with the big office and special parking place. We might concentrate on starting a modest new project. We are given the opportunity to be patient and take delight in small things. We might nurture the next generation of leadership rather than being the leaders ourselves.

31- The Postmodern Leader: Style Two. I. Courage and Strategic Planning

July 12, 2010

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

I. Courage and Strategic Planning

In my previous two blogs I speculated on a postmodern version of Style One Leadership. In these blogs I postulated that the wise leader of premodern and modern societies becomes a lifelong learner rather than the source of either traditional knowledge (premodern)  or acquired (education/training) wisdom (modern). As I turn in these next two blogs to the second leadership style, I focus on new ways in which courage is manifest. In my blogs on premodern style two leadership I focused on courage as it is manifest in the bravery one exhibits in confronting an external enemy. In a modern setting, this second style is manifest in the capacity of the leader (as manager) to instill courage in those with whom this leader works – I described the process of empowerment as it is embraced by a style two leader and her team. The modern “enemy” doesn’t resides outside the organization. It resides inside the organization and takes on many forms.

What about Style Two leadership and the postmodern enemy? I propose that the postmodern enemy is much closer at hand. This enemy resides inside the heart and mind of the Style Two leader. The leader is now his or her own enemy and this enemy. As in the case of premodern and modern versions, this enemy is manifest in many forms. It can take the form of fear about specific actions. It can show up as anger that may begin as frustration or disgust with another person or group, but ends up as frustration or disgust with oneself (often leading to depression). The postmodern enemy can also be manifest in a state of “freeze” (rather than either fight or flight). A leader is faced with the challenge of paradox and polarity. She sees both sides of an issue and doesn’t know which decision to make – which path to take. Any decision will inevitably have a negative impact on some aspect of the organization. And no decision (leading to inaction) is even worse. So what does a Style Two leader do?

Planning and the Internal Enemy

In Blog 26 (Style Three/Modern) I wrote about the challenge of engendering passion and commitment to the processes of strategic planning. I mentioned in this blog that I would address the strategies of strategic planning in a later blog. Now is the time for identification of these strategies, for it is in the engagement of these strategies that a Style Two leader moves from a state of freeze to a state of action and from fear and anxiety regarding the unknown to a reasoned analysis and management of risk. It is through strategic planning that one can effectively encounter one’s own internal enemies and can truly be brave in the midst of postmodern complexity, uncertainty and turbulence.

In this blog I will specifically identify three approaches to strategic planning that I believe helps a style two leader confront the postmodern challenges. These three approaches relate directly to the three domains I have identified in previous blogs: (1) the domain of information, (2) the domain of intentions and (3) the domain of ideas. Each of these approaches begins with a different set of assumptions about the appropriate sequence for an organization to use in moving through these three domains. While each of these approaches holds some strengths, none of them fully address the unique challenges associated with the postmodern condition. In the next blog \(32) I identify two other approaches that I believe more effectively meet the challenges of our postmodern condition. Both of these approaches build on the three approaches to strategic planning that I identify in the current blog and each involves repeated movement through these three domains.

Approach One: Command-Based Planning

This first approach is probably the one most common for (in many ways) it involves no formal planning at all. The focus is on the domain of ideas—getting the flash of brilliance that launches a major new product or service line. Typically, the “boss” has an idea and then the rest of his staff scramble to find the information that supports this idea and they re-craft the intentions (mission, vision, values, purposes) of the organization so that these intentions are aligned with this idea. The organization then moves immediately to action (often before the justifying information and intentions are even fully assembled).

While, at first blush, this appears to be an inappropriate approach to strategic planning, it can be very effective if used by a small, family-owned organization or a highly entrepreneurial organization that must be responsive to a volatile market place. Certainly, there have been many instances of spectacular success in the use of this command approach in the high-tech industry, though there have also been many spectacular failures in this industry—one need only look to the failure of many dot.com startup ventures of the 1990s and early years of the 21st Century.

Obviously, one of the strengths of this approach to strategic planning is that it allows for rapid planning processes. In many ways the command approach to strategic planning does away with the distinction between strategic and tactical planning. Command based planning, whether strategic or tactical, tends to be highly contextual: an opportunity opens up and a great idea is formulated to meet an immediate customer need. The organization is “off to the races” with this idea. This approach often leads to many risks, but it also offers the possibility of a few big successes. Rather than being failure-avoidant, this approach is highly success-oriented: “we can make some mistakes, and hopefully learn from these mistakes; however, what is most important is that we have some major successes.” This approach more than any of the other approaches moves a Style Two leader out of freeze and inaction to action.

At a very practical level, this command approach is likely to be most appropriate in an organization that has substantial financial reserves or that has many programs operating that are already highly successful and are likely to product major revenues during the foreseeable future (the so-called “cash cow” of Boston Consulting Group fame). One needs this financial buffer (financial reserves from past successes or venture capital) to overcome the failures; without this buffer the success-oriented approach will be too risky. A couple of big failures will drive out the possibility of even launching a major success.

The primary weakness of the command approach is not just the potential for failure; at an even deeper level, the primary weakness concerns the treatment of information. Employees get in the habit of fashioning the data to meet the perspectives (and biases) of those who are in command—those who are producing the ideas. Once this habit is formed, the organization ceases to be a learning organization; it becomes increasingly vulnerable to repeated failures, especially in a volatile market. It is indeed ironic that the command approach is most likely to be used in an unpredictable world, yet it is also most likely to create organizational habits that block the capacity of those working in this organization to learn how to effectively respond to this unpredictable world.

We can relate this approach to strategic planning (as well as the other approaches) to several prominent models regarding ways in which people and entire organizations are likely to engage their world.  First we can turn to the model of personality type that was first offered by the Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, and was later modifies and made quite popular by architects of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). We find that the command approach is most likely to be embraced by leaders and by organizations that prefer the intuitive rather than sensing mode of perception, and that prefer the processes of judgment over the processes of perception (the NJ configuration on MBTI). Put in other words, these leaders and organizations are inclined to rely on hunches, images of potential opportunities and memories of past successes, rather than on data, “cold hard facts” or present day realities. They are also likely to move rapidly to action, rather than spending much time reflecting on the current situation—in terms of either gathering more information or further clarifying the relationship between actions about to be taken and the fundamental intentions of the organization.

There is also a tendency for those leaders and organizations embracing the command approach to assume an internal locus of control, meaning that they believe that they can readily influence the setting in which they operate—both the internal operations of the organization and the marketplace in which they are situated. Assuming this internal locus of control, these leaders and organizations will tend to focus on strengths as they relate to the leader’s or group’s ideas. We see this operating successfully in the “skunk-works,” and other forms of “intra-preneurship” that are to be found in many high-tech organizations. Furthermore, we find many of these leaders and organizations leveraging their distinctive strengths (though command approaches to strategic planning) in seeking to identify their “unfair advantage” in the marketplace. The internal locus of control can also lead to an ignoring or denial of weaknesses as well as the role played by powerful external forces.

On the other hand, an effective use of the command approach can be compatible with an external locus of control. To make sense of this use of an external locus, we turn to the well-known SWOT model of planning that is usually associated with Harvard University. The “S” in SWOT refers to the strengths that exist inside an organization, while the “W” refers to internal weaknesses. We have already mentioned that command-based planners are often inclined to focus on their distinctive strengths and ignore the weaknesses that exist in their organization.  The “O” and “T” in SWOT refer to external factors—opportunities and threats—that must be taken into consideration when engaged in strategic planning. Command-based planners can be very effective in adopting an external locus of control if they focus on opportunities that emerge in the external marketplace—especially as these opportunities relate to the innovative ideas introduced by the leader or group. Command-based planners can provide an entrepreneurial response to emerging opportunities. They can “seizing the moment [of opportunity]”, though in doing so they may be ignoring or denying threats that exist in the world.

Finally, before moving to the second approach, we will identify the major leadership challenge associated with the command approach to planning. This challenge concerns the frequent chaos being created in an organization that relies on command-based planning. Everyone in the organization may find themselves working in an uncoordinated manner to enact unrealistic plan. There is insufficient information and no clear priorities. Under such conditions, not only are members of the organization unlikely to learn much from either their failures or successes, they are also likely to find themselves repeatedly in the business of “fire fighting” rather than producing a high quality product or providing high quality service. The Style Two leader who embraces this command approach in an uncritical manner is likely to fail.

Approach Two: Symbol-Based Planning

This second approach is probably the second most commonly found. In some ways, like the first approach, this second approach actually involves no formal planning at all. The focus is on the domain of intentions—identifying or promoting a specific vision (or mission, purpose or values) for her organization. Once again, it is typically the “boss” who starts the planning process—in this case by promoting a specific “dream” or compelling image of what the organization could be if it successfully launches a new product or service. As in the case of the command-based approach, the rest of this leader’s staff scramble, in this instance, to generate an idea that hopefully will enable the organization to achieve her vision, and find information (often from the marketplace) that does two things: (1) demonstrates that this vision is “realistic” and “achievable” and (2) provides the idea-people with guidelines and boundaries for creating their successful strategy. The organization then moves to action inspired by and motivated by the compelling image offered by the Style Two symbolic leader.

The symbolic approach to planning can be very effective if used in very large organizations where the upper-tier of leaders primarily are in the business of inspiring rather than getting involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. The symbolic approach also makes sense in a setting where the market place is relatively stable, but in which there must be a sustained effort for products or services to be viable. In other words, the symbolic approach makes sense when it comes to organizations that are in the business of product or service quality and must be constantly concerned with reputation and prestige. Collegiate institutions often belong in this category, as do organizations that produce high end products (such as Swiss watches or yachts) or provide high-end services (such as expensive resorts or restaurants offer).

One of the strengths associated with the symbolic approach to strategic planning is that it tends to encourage patience and persistence—an ongoing pursuit of some lofty and highly desirable outcome. Symbols inspire for the “long haul” and “keep us going when the going gets tough.” This second approach to strategic planning offers a clear distinction between strategic and tactical planning. The symbolic-based planner offers the big vision and the long-term strategy. She leaves the tactical implementation of the vision and strategy to the mid-managers and other lower-level employees in the organization. While the symbolic leader may find ways to “touch the masses” and may make a symbolic show of support for the operational managers of the organization (photographed climbing a telephone poll or serving a meal in a fast-food restaurant), this person (like the command-based leader) is often out of touch with the realities of the workplace. She fails to attend sufficiently to the domain of information—particularly information about the internal operations of the organization.

As in the case of the command approach, symbolic planning can often be risky—the dreams are often not very realistic  However, the symbolic planner and leader can be very appreciative and can provide support for a “success-oriented” approach to program development: “we have taken on a very ambitious goal and will undoubtedly make some mistakes on the way to this goal; hopefully we can learn from these mistakes; however, what is most important is that we get up, dust ourselves off, and try again to achieve a major, worthy success.”

This approach, like the command approach, is most appropriate in an organization that has substantial financial reserves or that has many programs operating that are already highly successful and are likely to product major revenues during the foreseeable future (the “cash cow”). Once again, it is a matter of building a financial buffer to overcome the failures; that is why the symbolic approach is often most appropriate in a large organization. This organization is likely to have a financial buffer if it has mounted successful programs for many years and has established a strong reputation and is prestigious. Reputation and prestige can themselves serve as financial buffers in that the symbolic leaders of this organization are more likely to get loans and additional financial backing than are leaders of organizations with less prestige and a more spotty reputation. The primary weakness of the symbolic approach concerns the treatment of information. As in the case of the command approach, employees may get in the habit of fashioning data to make the vision of their symbolic leaders seem viable. This is yet another way in which an organization ceases to be a learning organization;

If we turn once again to ways in which people and entire organizations are likely to engage their world, we find that the symbolic approach is most likely to be embraced by leaders and organizations preferring intuitive rather than sensing modes of perception, and that prefer feeling-based criteria rather than thinking-based criteria when arriving at a judgment (the NF configuration on MBTI). Symbolic leaders and organizations oriented to this approach are inclined to not only rely on hunches (as do the command-based planners), but also mistake dreams for reality. Their dreams are motivating in part because other people can see, hear and even taste these dream—thereby often mistaking the dreams for reality. Data and cold hard facts (the sensing function in MBTI) are often considered to be offensive and even a sign of disloyalty. They certainly are not welcomed. There is also a tendency for symbolic leaders and organizations to assume an internal locus of control. They believe that they can achieve anything, if there is sufficient commitment and effort. Assuming this internal locus of control, symbolic leaders and organizations (like their command counterparts) will tend to focus on strengths–especially as these strengths are aligned with the symbolic leader’s vision. The symbolic leader, like the command leader, is likely, with an internal locus of control, to ignore or deny weaknesses in their organization (especially the failure to understand or support their vision) and the role played by powerful external forces that are not aligned with their vision.

Once again, the key to effective symbolic planning by a Style Two leader is often the shift to an external locus of control. We turn again to SWOT. Symbol-based planners can be effective in adopting an external locus of control if they focus on ways in which their intentions (mission, values and purposes as well as vision) align with opportunities (O) that are emerging in the external marketplace to which their organization is responsive. A symbolic approach to strategic planning can be quite powerful if the symbolic planner’s or leader’s dreams can be connected to the dreams of stakeholders from outside their organization: “Go west young man [and woman] and seek your fortune, while fulfilling the manifest destiny of this great land.”  Furthermore, by identifying the threats (T) that exist out in the world, a symbolic planner can avoid the creation of dreams that simply can never be realized or that divert attention and resources away for those threats that can reduce or eliminate the organization’s capacity to realize its dreams.

Before moving to the third approach, I will again identify the major leadership challenge associated with this second approach to planning. This challenge concerns the ability of the symbolic planner and Style Two leader to clearly define the vision and link this vision to the personal aspirations not only of those who are leading the organization, but also other members of the organization and other stakeholders: “We will help each other out in realizing our personal dreams as well as our collective dream.”  Without this alignment between personal aspirations and organizational vision there is a lack of coordinated efforts. Like an automobile with nonaligned tires, the nonaligned organization will have to exert more energy, will find more wear-and-tear, and experience a much bumpier ride than the aligned organization.

Approach Three: Reason-Based Planning

The third approach to strategic planning is most often associated with modern, 20th Century organizational management. It begins with a focus on the domain of information—and, in particular, identifying the internal strengths and weaknesses of the organization, as well as the external opportunities and threats. Typically, this approach to planning is placed not in the hands of the upper level executives in the organization (as is the case with the command and symbolic approaches) but in the hands of a planning office, planning committee, the Management Information Systems office, or the Finance and Budgeting department of the organization.

The rational approach to planning can be very effective if used in an organization that is very large and in an organization that resides in a stable marketplace (or often a marketplace that this organization strongly influences or even controls). We are particularly likely to see this third approach embraced in an organization that is highly bureaucratized—in which change occurs slowly and with considerable deliberation. One of the strengths associated with the rational approach to strategic planning is that it tends to reduce failure—at least failure of major proportions. Failures are reduced not only because this approach emphasizes the formulation of realistic plans, but also because rational planning usually closely links the strategic and tactical planning of the organization. All of the tactics (often directed toward the achievement of specific objectives linked to specific initiatives) emerge from and are compatible with the strategic plan (often directed toward the achievement of programmatic goals).

While the command or symbolic leader may be out of touch with the reality of the workplace in their organization, the rational planner and leader is “in touch”—though this connection may be mostly in the form of numbers and statistics rather than actual, direct experience in the workplace. There is a tendency for rational planners to devote too much attention to calculations and not enough to commitment. This, in turn, points to one of the weaknesses of the rational planning approach. It too often leads to a plan that never gets implemented because it is not inspiring (the symbolic approach) or leads to results that are not very impressive given that the plan is not terribly innovative (the command approach).

The strength of the rational planning approach has already been noted—it is not very risky. More often “failure-avoidant” than either the command or symbolic approaches (which are more likely to be “success-oriented”), the rational approach makes sense if mistakes or failure would be very costly for the organization and its customers or clients. Rational planning makes sense in the design and construction of a new airplane or in the treatment of a seriously ill patient. You can’t afford any mistakes when flying 200 passengers across the Pacific Ocean or when treating a patient who might die if a mistake in diagnosis or treatment is made.

It is typically not hard for the rational planner to be practical. While large, bureaucratic organizations are likely to have substantial financial reserves, these reserves are often unnecessary if the rational planners have done a good job of preparing a SWOT analysis. On the other hand, when we turn again to the ways in which people and entire organizations are likely to engage their world, we find that the rational approach is just as “irrational” as the first two approaches. Just as many untested assumptions are likely to underlie a rational planning approach in the case of command and symbolic planning. Rational planners are usually inclined to assume an external locus of control. Though they may conduct a SWOT analysis that focuses on internal as well as external factors, attention usually is directed toward the external factors. In part, this focus on external factors is likely to occur because it is often assumed that these large, bureaucratic organizations are very hard to change internally—so why spend much time identifying internal strengths and weaknesses (especially the latter). It is often assumed, given the organization’s influence in its marketplace, that the organization is likely to be able to change external conditions more quickly than internal conditions.

With regard to MBTI profiles, the rational planner, leader and organization are most likely to be oriented toward the sensing function (S) when gathering information (perceiving) and to the thinking (T) processes when making a judgment (the ST configuration on MBTI). Rational planners, leaders and organizations are inclined to rely on data from the outside world, rather than building a plan on the basis of hunches (command-based planners) or dreams (symbolic planners). While their plans may not be very inspiring or innovative, they are realistic and have been derived in a systematic and thoughtful manner.

The key to effective planning for those Style Two leaders using the rational approach is often the opposite of those from the command and symbolic planners. The rational planners need to pay more attention to the internal operations of their organization—they must embrace an internal as well as external locus of control. A rational approach to strategic planning can be quite powerful if the planner or leader can fully appreciate the distinctive strengths that exist in her organization, and if she finds ways in which to use these strengths to address the weaknesses that exist in her organization. The “enemy” is not just an external threat. It is also internal inertia and a sense of powerlessness among those working in large, bureaucratized organizations. An appreciative perspective regarding distinctive strengths—especially when these strengths are being assessed in a systematic and thoughtful manner (the strong suit of rational planners)—can make a real difference in sustaining the viability of a large (and often old) organization.

Before moving in the next blog to the final two approaches to planning, I will identify the major leadership challenge associated with the rational approach to planning. This challenge concerns the focus of a rational planner and leader: “To what should I [the planner or leader] attend?” When one starts with the domain of information, there is an immediate question: “what do I look at first (given that we have not yet clarified intentions nor have any ideas to evaluate)?” This is where rational planning isn’t very rational. That to which we attend first, tends to be more influential than that to which we attend later. Furthermore, the way in which we interpret or place a frame around specific information has a great impact on how this information is used. Many scientists have come to realize in recent years that the tool of measurement may have a greater impact on the outcome of the measurement than the phenomenon being measured. Thus, rational planners need to be very careful in formulating their initial questions regarding strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and must be very careful in their selection of measurement tools and criteria when seeking to answer these questions.


In reviewing these approaches to strategic planning I would suggest that you ask yourself, as a leader, the following three questions in determining which of these approaches is most appropriate:

  1. Which of these approaches has been most commonly used by you during the past five years? Why have you used this particular approach?
  2. If you look at a project, change initiative or organizational improvement in which you are about to engage, which approach seems most appropriate? Why?
  3. Look back on your planning efforts in the past, your preferred way of doing planning (question one) and the planning challenges you now face (question two) what are the lessons learned from these past efforts that are applicable to today’s challenges? When have your planning efforts been most effective? Why do you think they have been effective? When have they been least effective? Why do you think this is the case?

You might find that none of the three approaches offered in this blog will do the trick. Perhaps one of the two more complex and often subtle approaches described in the next blog will be a better fit as you engage the personal enemy inherent in postmodern leadership.

27- The Modern Leader: Style Three. I. Motivating, Goal Setting and Monitoring

December 28, 2009

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

I. Motivating, Goal Setting and Monitoring

In my previous blogs I have identified both premodern and modern versions of both Style One and Style Two Leadership. I have also introduced the premodern version of Style Three. In this blog I will describe the ways in which the third leadership style has been translated from its premodern form to the form found commonly in modern social systems.

While the third premodern leadership style focused on creating a vision, the modern Style Three leader will focus on creating a TANGIBLE VISION and this is done through focused motivation, the setting of specific goals and the monitoring of the ways in which and extent to which these goals are achieved within the organization. Thus, a person who is assigned this third form of leadership must not only be able to articulate a vision of the future that is persuasive and motivating, she must also be able to “deliver” on this vision—in other words be a good, achieving manager. The organizational vision may come from the Style Three leader herself or may be assigned to her by other people in the organization (the so-called “stakeholders”). When the third style of modern leadership is coupled with style two (empowerment), then the manager will be involved not only in the setting and monitoring of goals, but also in the creation of the organization’s vision and in the translation of this vision into tangible goals (and even more tangible objectives).

Modern Motivation

The observant reader will note that the term “motivation” is used with regard to both premodern and modern Style Three leadership. While this term is appropriate to both styles, the source of the motivation is quite different. In the case of the premodern Style One leader, the motivation is intrinsic – that is to say the realization of the vision is itself inherently valuable and exciting for all (or at least most) members of the organization. Alexander the Great inspired his troops to fight on because he helped them see the inherent value of their mission to conquer and Hellenize the outside world. Much as in the case of many other crusades and wars of later years, Alexander was able to convince the men he led to give up their families, their “fortunes” and even their lives on behalf of some greater good and some inspiring vision of a possible future (on earth or in heaven).

By contrast, the motives being engaged by the modern Style Three leader are extrinsic in nature. An employee does not necessarily believe in the inherent value of the product he is being asked to produce or the service he is being asked to provide. Furthermore, the modern employee is not necessarily inspired by the profit to be made by the owners of his company as a result of his good work. The modern employee is much more likely to be inspired and motivated by the rewards he is likely to receive related to achievement of a specific set of goals. These rewards are not necessarily monetary—though they often are. They might come in the form of public recognition, promotion to a new job or, at the very least, increased assurance of job security. While the profit to be made by his organization is not inherently motivating for the modern employee, there is comfort to be derived from knowing that one’s organization is financially solvent and is likely to open its doors again tomorrow morning (and for many morning thereafter). The motivation might also come from the exposure to frequent challenges, the opportunity to work with people who are gifted and supportive or the ability to perform work that is relatively stable over time. These are all motivators that an effective modern Style Three manager will use to encourage and “inspire” his subordinates (and colleagues).

Goal Setting

The modern Style Three leader is faced with a major challenge: how does one translate an inspiring vision into tangible goals. This is not just a matter of moving from some general, vague notion about what the world could be to some specific, even quantifiable goals. An even greater challenge for the Style Three leader concerns the magnitude of the goals: how big should they be and how ambitious should they be? Many years ago, David McClelland and his colleagues at Harvard University conducted research on the need to achieve. They discovered that people with a low need to achieve tend to set their goals either very low (making them very easy to achieve and nonchallenged) or very high (making them either impossible to achieve or achievable only with a great deal of good fortune or “luck”). Men and women with a high need to achieve will tend to set their goals at a high but realistic level. Years later, Hershey and Blanchard identified a key concept in team goal-setting that complimented the McClelland findings. Hershey and Blanchard wrote about the capacity of a mature team to set goals that are high and ambitious, but also attainable.

In much more recent times, Czikszentmihalyi has written about (and done research) on the conditions that are most amenable to high levels of concentration and learning. These conditions are those in which there is a major challenge, yet the challenge is not so great that it can’t be achieved. These results amplify the findings of McClelland, as well as Hershey and Blanchard. Goals should be set at a high but realistic level. The one major addition to be found in the work of Czikszentmihalyi returns us to the issue of motivation—and calls into question the distinction I have already drawn between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Czikszentmihalyi observers that these “threshold” experiences (when challenges can be met) are highly motivating in and of themselves (suggesting intrinsic motivation). According to Czikszentmihalyi these “flow” experiences are among the most motivating that one can experience in life. The power of “flow” would suggest that modern motivational theory and modern management practices associated with Style Three leadership need to be re-examined. In many instances, there may be little or no need for an extrinsic motivator (such as money, public recognition or job security). The task itself may provide sufficient motivation—provided that the goals that are set for the task are ambitious (“idealistic”) yet achievable (“realistic”). The challenge facing a modern Style Three leader is therefore one of translating a vision into goals that are situated in the midst of the threshold of “flow” that has been articulated by Czikszentmihalyi.

Goal Monitoring

It is not enough to set goals – as a Style Three leader operating in a modern society, it is also critical that the attempts to achieve these goals be closely monitored. This emphasis on accountability has become particularly critical in recent years, with tighter budgets and a push toward “zero-based” budgeting (starting each year with a clean budgetary slate and the requirement that each manager justify their program) and “return-on-investment” (comparing the costs associated with any new project with the outcomes of this project). The successful modern day manager must find a way to monitor goal achievement and to somehow measure this achievement (“metrics”).

In many ways, this focus on goal monitoring is not new. It can be traced back more than forty years to the era when “management by objectives” was in vogue—and the era of modern management was at its peak. This approach to the monitoring of goals directly addressed one of the major objections that was often voiced about management: how does a manager monitor goal achievement in a way that impacts on the overall performance of the organization? Does it really make any difference if an individual employee or a project team is doing an adequate job? While many 21st Century management experts are opposed to the use of management-by-objectives or more contemporary outcome measures, given that many factors other than an individual employee’s or individual team’s work influences outcomes, there is still a very strong case to be made for a focus on goal setting and goal monitoring outcomes and on the extent to which individual employees and teams are directly accountable for achieving the goals that have been set for them.

One key factor must be kept in mind by the modern Style Three leader and manager.  As I mentioned with regard to premodern Style Three leadership, goals must always be established in relationship to the organization’s mission, values and purposes. The four components of organizational intentions (mission, vision, values and purposes) are tightly interwoven and modifications in one will inevitably impact on the other three. Even at the more tactical and specific level of goal-setting and monitoring, it is critical for a leader and manager to ensure that these goals do not in any way abuse the fundamental values of the organization and that they ultimately contribute to both the mission and purposes of the organization. This broader focus on organizational intentions can easily be lost in a modern organizational setting that emphasizes short-term profitability and quantified return-on-investment.

22- The Premodern Leader: Style Three. II. The Challenges

December 22, 2008

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

II. The Challenges

If a vision is generated that is compelling, what do we do about it? We must do more than applaud the visionary speech-giver. We must do more than walk away, inspired to do good –for at least a day or week. So-called “motivational” speakers provide a welcome respite from the daily grind, but they rarely have along term impact. As was the case with the two other premodern styles of leadership, the neurosciences offer an important clue. Recent research regarding the hormonal system in the human body points to the important role played not just by adrenaline (which plays a key role in the Style Two Leadership focus on fighting and fleeing from the enemy), but also by oxytocin, a hormone that brings us closes together rather than leads us to fight or flee. Oxytocin is a “bonding” agency. It is critical to the production of love and hope in human beings. It is the hormone that surges in women (and even in men) when a child is about to be born. It is the primary physiological ingredient which turns (to use Martin Buber’s phrase) an “I-It” relationship into an “I-Thou” relationship.

I would propose that oxytocin is also critical to the sustained engagement with a compelling vision. While adrenaline may surge after a stirring (and visionary) speech, it is the bonding power of oxytocin that motivates people to build on a vision through collaboration and community. Thus, the neurosciences are teaching us that premodern leaders of vision must not just excite people, they must also “bond” people to the new vision. In another publication I write about the “triangulation” that is required for a vision to be sustained. By this I mean that it is not just enough for two people to work together—a third element must be present if the working relationship is to be sustained. This third element is a shared vision (linked to a shared mission, set of values and compelling social purpose). The “I-Thou” conception offered by Martin Buber provides us with guidance in this matter. According to Buber (a Jewish theologian), the “I-Thou” exists through God’s grace.

Similarly, the Greek word “agape” refers not just to mankind’s relationship to some deity. It also relates to the ways in which we treat and care for other people on behalf of our religious beliefs. In the 21st Century, we need not focus on the relationship between humankind and a deity—we can focus instead on the ways in which relationships are enhanced and sustained (“I-Thou”) when these relationships are based on a shared vision—when oxytocin is produced to bind people together and bind people to an organization and its vision (as well as mission, values and purposes). This is the key to enactment of a vision. It must induce a sense of community and shared commitment—hence can not just be the product of one person’s sense of the future.

Keeping the Vision Alive

If people are bound together, at least in part, through commitment to a shared, compelling vision of the future, then it become obvious that the key role to be played by the visionary leader is: KEEP THE VISION ALIVE. This usually means not only that the leader periodically reminds his or her colleagues of the vision, but also that the leader facilitates a periodic review of and updating of the vision. The leader of vision is in trouble if the vision either is ignored or if the vision is reached. Thus, there must always be a sense of something undone, of something yet to be done, of something worth doing.

Many years ago, a noted European social historian, Fred Polak, wrote about the decline of social systems that have lost their image of the future. I will have much more to say about Polak’s important work in a later blog; it is only important to note at this point, that Polak points to a critical factor in the ongoing existence of any social system (or any living system for that matter). It must have something toward which it is moving or toward which it is growing. Organisms are inherently “auto-telic”—meaning that they are self-purposed. They don’t need anything outside themselves to engage their world actively and in an inquisitive manner. This is the fundamental nature of play (common to all mammalians) and of curiosity. Without a sense of direction and future possibilities we dry up and find no reason to face the continuing challenge of survival. We also find little reason for producing and preparing a new generation.

In the series of Australian movies regarding Mad Max a post-nuclear holocaust world is portrayed that is coming to an end. When no viable future is in sight, then (as we see in these movies) there is no attending to children. They must fend for themselves, for we know they have no personal futures. Ironically, there is a powerful story about post-nuclear holocaust in a novel by Cormac McCarthy called The Road in which the father continues to protect and sacrifice for his son, even though the world is coming to an end. This extraordinary protagonist somehow finds meaning and purpose – and vision—regarding his son in the midst of despair and death. Perhaps this is the type of premodern leadership that we need in our challenging world of 21st Century terrorism, nihilism and despair. McCarthy offers us a portrait of leadership that blends courage (Style Two) with vision (Style Three)—and perhaps in some very deep manner even the qualities of wisdom (Style One).

The premodern leader who is honored and respected for his or her capacity to convey a compelling vision of the future needs a viable vision (just as the Style Two leader needs an enemy and the Style One leader needs to possess wisdom). One of the great challenges for the third type of leader emerges when the vision has been realized, abandoned or ignored. If there is no longer the need for a vision, than we certainly don’t need a visionary leader. We can point once again to Winston Churchill as a notable example of this decline in collective support for a visionary leadership. During World War II, Churchill not only exhibited courage, he also articulated a compelling vision regarding the future of England (and all of Europe), that helped to increase the resolve of English citizens to fight against the Naxi regime and Hitler’s equally as compelling (though horrifying) vision for a new Europe. When the Germans were defeated, England and Churchill not only lost an enemy, they also lost their compelling vision for the future. While England (and all of Western Europe) were certainly better off after World War II was terminated, than they were during the war—there was not a new Europe. The United Nations didn’t solve all international problems. This was not the war-to-end-all-wars (as was proclaimed at the conclusion of World War I). Many writers have documented the existential despair that followed World War II, when people had to return to a life that had not improved, despite the visionary statements of World War II leaders like Churchill, Roosevelt, DeGaulle—even Stalin.

Organizational Visions

What about the role of premodern vision on a smaller plain—in a group or organization? I would propose that the same challenge exists. The vision must remain viable. Organizations are often in crisis when they achieve some success and have realized a dream. What do we do now that we have completed this five year plan? We have obtained this grant and have initiated our new programs, but nothing has really changed and we are still hustling for more funds. It is critical that a new set of goals be established before the old ones are realized; it is equally as important, however, that achievement of the old goals be honored and celebrated. An organization that simply moves from one five year plan to a second five year plan is just as vulnerable to exhaustion and disillusionment as an organization that never realizes its dreams (because they have been set too high). We must appreciate the achievement of current goals and must linger for a moment to honor the old dream and vision before moving forward to a new sense of the future.

At times, the old visionary leader must step aside for the new vision—given that he or she has finished the task and awaits a period of rest and reflection back on what has been achieved. At other times, the old visionary leader becomes the new visionary leader and finds renewed energy and commitment while collaborating with others in the formulation of the new vision. As in the case of the old, wise leader and the warrior who has spent many years battling an ancient foe, the visionary leader and his or her followers must decide when “enough-is-enough” and when the mantle of leadership must be passed on to the next generation. This is perhaps the most important decision that a premodern leader can make – whether wise, courageous or visionary. When do I move on and how do I help the next generation succeed? In many instances, this “moving on” centers on the shift to a modern or even postmodern style of leadership. It is to these styles that I turn in future blogs.

As I did in the previous blogs, I conclude by proposing that it is not uncommon for us to still live in premodern organizations. At the very least, we are living in the back of our minds and hearts in a world that may no longer exist—if it ever did. This is a world filled with men and women of vision (as well as courage and wisdom). We don’t’ differ in this regard from men and women who lived at much earlier times. The Greeks of antiquity, for instance, believed that their myths were the “realities” of a previous time in their history—when Gods acted upon and in the world and when exceptional men and women (called “heroes”) lived in the world. Then one day, according to many Greek writers (such as Homer and Sophocles) this Golden Age came to an end. The Greeks were left, as ordinary men and women, to live ordinary lives and reflect back through myths and ceremonies on this previous world of Gods and Heroes.  It is important—perhaps essential—that we recognize the fact of this same premodern perspective exists in 21st Century life. We must acknowledge that we, like the Greeks before us, yearn for a certain type of premodern leadership. We find ourselves disappointed in our leaders. They are, after all, only human. They are neither Gods nor Heroes. At other times we are profoundly thankful for and appreciative of these leaders—and in particular of the moments when these leaders are truly heroic as they face (with wisdom, courage and vision) the challenging world of 21st Century complexity, unpredictability and turbulence.


21- The Premodern Leader: Style Three. I. Articulating the Vision at the Right Time and Place

December 15, 2008

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

I. Articulating the Vision at the Right Time and Place

In my previous two blogs I identified premodern versions of Style One and Style Two Leadership. These are ways of leading that are based on the assumption that leaders are sources of great wisdom (Style One) or sources of great courage (Style Two). In this blog I will a describe a third leadership style that operates in a premodern social system.

This third premodern leadership style focuses on VISION. A person is assigned this third form of leadership because he or she can articulate a vision of the future that is persuasive and motivating. This person is assigned a leadership role not only because he or she is articulate and persuasive, but also because the people he or she is leading “hunger” for a dream or image of an alternative reality that will either help them build a game plan for getting out of the current reality or will enable them to be distracted from their current reality (a variation on the Style Two strategy of flight).

In both of the previous blogs, I mentioned that Alexander the Great is a vivid personification of premodern leadership. In this blog I would propose that he also exemplifies the third style—he had everything going for him. He was truly a “visionary” and coupled this vision with the wisdom he had acquired as a student of Aristotle and as the son of Phillip of Macedonia with the courage and competence he displayed as a great warrior. His vision was to conquer and “civilize” the Mideast and Asia. Like many of his fellow-citizens in the Grecian world, Alexander was apparently quite arrogant about the “advanced” state of Greece (when compared to the rest of the world) and quite patronizing with regard to his “responsibility” to make the rest of the world more like Greece. As is the case with many contemporary leaders in the Western World, Alexander offered a vision that was quite biased and xenophobic: “we are the best and will bring all other people, even if by force, to our state of advancement.” Visions are not always beneficial to the world—Hitler being a prime example of a premodern visionary leader who was articulate and compelling in offering his people a vision of genocide and world dominance.

Leadership at the Right Time and Place

While premodern leadership that builds on wisdom usually comes with a prestigious education, and courageous leaders receive training that prepares them to fight against the enemy, the visionary leader is someone who may not have much of an education or much training—but who is in the right place at the right time to offer a vision of the future. In fact, the visionary leader often comes to leadership with minimal preparation. His or her compelling vision often comes with a story of personal triumph over adversity and discrimination. Visionary leaders like Abraham Lincoln often were born in poverty and are self-taught. Other visionary leaders such as Susan B. Anthony (and the other Seneca Falls advocates for women’s rights) and Martin Luther King (and the other civil rights leaders of the 1960s) grew up in a world that discriminated against them (or at least against other people “of their kind”). Visionary leaders such as Frederick Douglass offer even more compelling story of being born into slavery and escaping to freedom.

The visionary stories often contain moments of personal doubt and spiritual despair. We see this in the inspiring stories of Joan-of-Arc and Mother Teresa. Visionary stories often contains elements not only of doubt and despair, but also of wisdom (combining Style One and Style Three leadership) and of courage (combining Style Two and Style Three leadership).  Visionary leaders convey stories of sacrifice, tribulation and triumph—having parted the Red Sea or dwelled in the desert so that they might enter into a land of milk and honey. Tragically, in many instances they have led their people to a land of milk and honey but have not been able to enter this land themselves (Moses, Lincoln, Gandhi, John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King). This is a key point in understanding the premodern dynamics of Style Three leadership: the vision can never be realized (just as the enemy can never be defeated if Style Two leadership is to be sustained and the followers can never become too wise if Style One leadership is to prevail). One way to insure that the vision remains intact is to kill the visionary leader (figuratively or literally). We can sustain the vision of a new Camelot because John Kennedy never had a chance to enact his dream and can be moved by King’s “I have a dream” speech in part because he was not alive to realize this dream.   

It is very hard to teach anyone how to be charismatic or to provide anyone with a story that is compelling to other people. The visionary leader is typically someone who has gained their “education” and “training” through their own distinctive life experiences. They may have received a prestigious education—but this usually happens “in spite of” their background. They often are the poster-boy (or poster-girl) for affirmative action. They may also have been trained as warriors (Colin Powell comes to mind), but the vision they now offer is typically one of peace: they “know” war and wish to have no further part of it.

Articulating the Vision

The key to wholehearted acceptance of and sustained support for a visionary leader resides in the identification of a compelling story from the past that bridges to the future. While this story often involves something about the visionary leader’s own life and struggles, it must also resonate with and align with the stories and personal aspirations of those hearing or reading this story. There is a phrase which usually reads: “think globally, but act locally.” This same sentiment, slightly revised, can apply to visionary stories: “make them personal and local, but be sure that they speak to a much larger constituency.”)

Given that visionary leadership is dependent on the right place and the right time, it is also important that the vision is articulated at the right time and in the right place. While Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address still appeals to us today, it is profound in large part because it was given at a commemoration ceremony for those soldiers who died during the bloody battle at Gettysburg. Lincoln is literally “consecrating” the ground where these young men were buried. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech was similarly given on a particularly auspicious occasion (a major civil rights march on Washington D.C.) and at a very “holy” or “patriotic” location (facing the Lincoln Memorial). The visionary leader must pick the special time and place when offering a visionary statement. This statement is not meant for the everyday—for the secular or the “profane” (to use Eliade’s term). It is meant for the special day and place–the “sacred” (Eliade’s term).

Where and when does the visionary leader find this special place and time? This is a critical decision. Unfortunately, the visionary statement is often offered during a time when immediate, profane matters need to be addressed. The vision is being offered as a distraction from the immediate problems facing the leader and his or her followers. Thus the criticality of place and time. I would suggest that there are five primary criteria with regard to the nature of an effective statement of vision. These five criteria tell us something about when and where we should offer a vision. I will first briefly identify these criteria and then suggest how these criteria help us identify an appropriate time and place for vision.

First, any statement of vision must be created and sustained by an entire social system—not just its leader(s). We will see this even more clearly when identifying the modern and postmodern versions of the visionary leader. Collaboration is just as important when formulating a vision, as it is when assembling an army as a courageous (style two) leader.

Second, the vision statement must be offered within a context of appreciation for past accomplishments and present day contributions. All too often the visionary leader (especially if new to this role) will ignore or offer a critical perspective on past achievements rather than honoring these achievements and seeking to learn from them. We must always remember that some day in the near future, we will be the relics of the past and may be overlooked by the next generation. It is not just the wise leader who often feels devalued by the next generation—it is also the visionary leader who holds a vision that is now out-of-date and whose accomplishments on behalf of this vision are no longer fully appreciated.

Third, the statement of vision must be coupled with a statement of mission. Whenever a leaders creates a vision of the future, it must be coupled with a clear commitment to something that is not about the future, or even exclusively about the present—it must be coupled with an enduring sense of mission. What do we do as a family, clan, organization, or social system that remains fundamental and unchanged—that is key to our survival? We must always look toward the future and toward change through the lens of foundations and continuity. What is our “business” and how does our vision for the future relate to this business.

The fourth criterion concerns the relationship between vision and values. How does our vision of the future relate to the fundamental values of this family, clan, organization or social system? What will and what won’t we do in order to realize our dream for the future? Martin Luther King not only offered us a dream, he also insisted that this dream be realized through a set of values based on nonviolence. Similarly, Lincoln’s statement of gratitude for the sacrifice made at Gettysburg is based on his firm commitment to preservation of the union. The “ends” (vision) never justify the use of inappropriate or unethical “means” (values).

Fifth, the vision statement should relate to some formally identified sense of purpose: what difference does our family, clan, organization or social system in the life of people living in this community, country or world. What social purpose are we serving and how does this purpose relate to our vision of the future? Our vision can be self-serving or even profoundly destructive with regard to social purpose (as in the case of Hitler’s vision). It is important that vision be aligned with a fundamental social purpose.

Thus, while a vision statement will change over time (and, as we shall see later, must change over time), the mission, values and social purposes tend not to change or to change very slowly. While the vision is the wind in the sails that propels a vessel, the mission, values and social purposes provide the anchor and keel that keep the ship afloat and properly aligned. Furthermore, even though a compelling vision statement may come out of the mouth of a premodern visionary leader, it ultimately requires collaboration and appreciation if the vision is to be truly owned by those who must enact this vision.

Several conclusions regarding appropriate time and place can be extracted from these five criteria. First, the vision statement should be offered alongside clearly articulated statements regarding mission, values and purposes. These four dimensions of what I label the “intentions” of an organization are tightly interwoven and modifications in one will inevitably impact on the other three. So, one must have his or her “ducks-in-order” with regard to an overall statement of intentions (a “charter” if you will), when articulating a compelling vision. The vision itself should build on many conversations, the sharing of stories (not just the visionary leader’s stories) and the identification of moments of “greatness” in the past history and present realities of the organization. Visions come alive and help guide an organization when they are generated and articulated under these conditions (place and time).