I have struggled for some time with whether every leader had to be visionary- which is defined by the dictionary as “thinking about or planning the future with imagination or wisdom.” Expecting the visionary leader to have imagination and wisdom implies that the their envisioned future state is a pleasant one. Ideally, visionaries are able to imagine and articulate a destination for their organizations to grow into. Growth aspirations send signals to businesses that there is abundance, i.e. there is more than enough success to be had and more than enough money to be made!
My recent experiences have taught me that while not all leaders are visionary, every leader has a vision. And while leaders may spend so much time on crafting and communicating goals and objectives, their unspoken vision is perhaps the most accurate predictor of the future of their organization. A leader’s perception of how the future tends to unfold becomes clear from they way they carry themselves and make decisions. Foreseeing abundance, visionary leadership instills hope and inspires the creativity needed for unearthing and capitalizing on new opportunities. Non-visionary leaders run the risk of projecting into their vision of the future their perception of the past and the present. And the most dangerous ‘non-visionary’ vision is that of scarcity, instilling fear rather than hope. The future becomes about going after the opportunities of the past and the present, using old or new method. This makes scarcity a self-fulfilling prophecy that limits the imagination of the organization to grabbing a larger slice of the same good ol’ pie. But how?
- Externally, the perception of scarcity generates a desire to beat rivals to protect and/or gain market share. This places the organization in a reactive mode to retain or attract clients away from competition. In the meantime, competitors are finding or even creating new opportunities in a world of abundance. They are leading the way in identifying new client needs, taking advantage of technological advances, and empowering creative talent. Scarcity-lead organizations continue to play catch up and even the most loyal clients may start to loose their patience. This reinforces the leader’s perception of scarcity, which in turn re-energizes the fear and the reactive catch-up craze.
- Internally, slower growth and mounting competitive pressures sell employees on the notion of scarcity. Job security is not necessarily at its highest levels, nor is upward mobility. Squeezed between pressure from the top and dissatisfaction from employees, middle managers are in panic and barely surviving. In this ‘sink-or-swim’ work environment, competition with peers wins over collaboration. When it comes to sinking or swimming, one outcome is certain. Motivation, productivity, and innovation sink and even the most loyal employees may start to loose their patience.
It’s not that difficult to predict what the future now looks like given the combination of more innovative competitors, disenfranchised employees, and less satisfied clients. Destination scarcity has now become an unpleasant reality. Clearly, no leader desires for their business to contract but what they miss is how influential their mindset is versus their stated goals and objectives. A mindset of scarcity rather than abundance paints a vision of rivalry and protectionism, rather than one of growth and expansion.
As a leader you probably invest heavily in assessing and addressing your external environments and team performance. But how much focus do you place on understanding and transforming your mindset? To what extent is your spoken vision aligned with your mindset? What is your plan for deliberately articulating a growth vision that reflects a mindset of abundance?