Why a Single Vision is Crucial for Effective Leadership

When people talk about leadership, I often hear the saying, “A ship can only have one captain.” This is because if we have more than one, we could end up going in two different directions, which could cause confusion, conflict, and failure.

And this quote often gets translated to the statement that we can only have one leader.

However, I think this all depends on you’re definition of leader, and it can be demotivating to people who want to have leading roles to be told that there can only be one leader.

As John Maxwell says, ‘A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way‘.

Which to me, means that we can have many leaders on projects, in departments, and in companies, and the more people we have taking this type of leadership approach, the more successful we can be.

We do, however need to have just one destination that we are all going to, one vision that we are following, and I believe that it is here that the confusion, conflict and failures begin.

Now this one vision, one destination, one goal could be set by the most senior leader, the person ultimately in charge, or it could be a group effort, with several leaders involved in setting the direction.

But once this is done, then it needs to be set in concrete, and communicated clearly and simply to all, and when we do that, then we can have as many people leading the way, showing the way and going the way as we want.

We want as many role models as possible bringing energy, and driving the teams forward, but it has to be in unison with a common goal and a common vision.

In one company where I worked, I had a pretty big leadership team, 14 direct reports, as we were running a pretty large department of around 1000 people, and we had a very simple set of goals, easy to understand, easy to communicate and therefore easy to follow.

But what I found was that out of 14 people one of the team didn’t fully agree with what we were doing, he was 95% in line, but as we were driving a big change which required a large cultural change we needed everyone to be 100% committed, because there is always resistance to change, and if people see an opportunity to have their resistance supported then they will take it.

As a result, this leaders department under performed when compared to the rest, and I wasn’t sure why, because he seemed completely committed, he understood what we were doing.

But as I investigated what I found was that in his communication, where I was saying this is what we WILL do, he was saying it was what we MAY do, only a one word change, but it a completely changes the emphasis, one way implies there is only one option the latter implies that there is a choice, and consequently those that wanted to resist chose to not do it, to see the MAY as MAY NOT.

So now instead of one clear direction, we had two, and two which were in conflict with each other. The result was a lack of commitment and confusion which compounded in that department to create poor results.

Once we addressed the issue, and it took a quite while because that last 5% of convincing the vision and goals were the right to the leader was difficult, because he felt it went against his principles, and this is why he was leaving the door open for his team.

But once we did address it, and got everyone focused on the same common goals, his departments performance improved significantly and in line with the other departments.

We can have two captains on a ship, but we cannot have two destinations, that is where failure starts.

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