Do you remember the movie "Spartacus"?
After a heroic resistance, the Roman slaves and gladiators are finally conquered. The Roman general who defeats them tells the thousands of seated survivors in Spartacus' army, "You have been slaves. You will be slaves again, but you will be spared your rightful punishment of crucifixion by the mercy of the Roman legions. All you need do is to turn over to me the slave Spartacus because we do not know him by sight."
After a long pause, Spartacus (played by Kirk Douglas) stands and says, "I am Spartacus."
Then the next man stands up and says, "I am Spartacus." And the next one, and the next one. Within a minute, everyone in the army is on his feet.
Whether the story is true or not, it demonstrates a deep truth. Together the group of slaves had loyalty to a shared vision which Spartacus had inspired: that they would be free men. The vision was so compelling that no men could bear to give it up and return to slavery. Death was preferable.
A shared vision is not just an idea. It is a compelling force in people's hearts, with much power behind it to drive actions. It is almost tangible.
As the president of Herman Miller Clocks says, "When you are immersed in a vision, you know what needs to be done ... everything is an experiment but there is no ambiguity at all. It's perfectly clear why you are doing it. People aren't saying, 'Give me a guarantee that it will work.' Everybody knows that there is no guarantee, but the people are committed nonetheless."
A vision is truly shared when all team members have a similar picture of the future and are committed to one another on its fulfillment. It creates a connection among all team members and a deep sense of caring. It provides the focus and energy for learning, and a context for people to strive to accomplish something that matters to them, something they truly believe in.
Such a vision can be crucial not only to the success of a movement such as Spartacus' rebellion, but also to the success of a corporation. It can propel employees to take the extra step, and go the extra mile for a goal.
But while many companies use the term "vision," one needs to look carefully to assure that this is not just one person's or one group's vision imposed on the total company, because such a vision will generate compliance, not commitment or creativity.
Henry Ford envisioned common people, not just the wealthy, owning automobiles. Steven Jobs and other Apple co-founders shared a vision of the computer empowering people. Norwest shares a vision of a banking company with local market management and local empowerment supported by a centralized production facility and strong specialty businesses.
What's most important about all these is that the vision becomes genuinely shared among people throughout all levels of their companies, focusing the energies of thousands and creating a common identity among a heterogeneous group of team members. There is tremendous power in that unison.
As mentioned in other articles, sharing such a vision makes doing the work part of pursuing a larger purpose for each individual. It gives them a sense of self-actualization through the success of their company, as well as creating a commitment to achieving that vision through personal growth and learning. Visions create a spark, an excitement that lifts the entire organization.
While the concept of shared vision may seem nebulous, it is a concept well worth investing in. It was President John F. Kennedy's vision that put a man on the moon. Who knows what your vision can do to your financial institution?
Demystify the concept of vision. It is not a mysterious, uncontrollable force. Leaders with a vision are people like you and me, who build their vision clearly, and then evangelistically disseminate it to every team member consistently, continuously, and relentlessly.