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Visionary Leadership - 8 July 2014

In The Alchemist, a book about following your dreams, the lead character develops a philosophy on life:  “I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure.”  In a sense, leadership is similar.  Leaders are adventurers looking for treasure, and the treasure they’re seeking – whatever that might be – is best encapsulated by their vision. 

A new Australian study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Management has produced some interesting results in relation to organisational visions.  The researchers found that when leaders establish a compelling vision and they communicate it with employees who believe in it, there’s an increase in both staff satisfaction and customer satisfaction. 

This can be explained by contagion theory, which is simply that people are influenced by the emotions of those that surround them.  If a vision is aspirational and meaningful, employees feel challenged and motivated.  That’s contagious, which means customers end up being satisfied.  But, if a vision is dull and uninspiring, employees become bored and apathetic.  That, too, is contagious, leading customers to be disengaged. 

And here’s the key: negative emotions are more contagious than positive ones, the consequence of which is that setting and sharing a great vision is not enough.  The whole thing can be derailed if any negativity associated with it is allowed to persist.  Here are three ways you might personally be contributing to negative contagion:

   -  Your mood:  If you don’t believe in your organisation’s vision, and it’s obvious in your body language and tone, that sentiment is contagious.

   -  Your focus:  If you’re concentrating more on trivial issues rather than on how your team can contribute significantly to the vision, that myopia is contagious.

   -  Your colleagues:  If you’re socialising with people at work who are unenthusiastic and pessimistic about the vision, that attitude is contagious.

   -  Your style:  If your leadership style is top-down, which means your employees haven’t been consulted on how to bring the vision to life, that disregard is contagious.

From a team leadership perspective, you may have no control over your organisation’s vision, but you have enormous influence over how your employees react to it.  So, be an adventurer. Seek treasure.  Just make sure the map is taking you to the right place.


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