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Risking a manifesto

December 18, 2010

One of the first things I did after taking on a new executive assignment was to create a manifesto. It’s like a mission/vision statement, but with a little more insight, depth and life. It is a story of what my vision is for the team, what it is meant to do and how it is meant to do it.

I used to resist the idea of having a particular mission/vision statement for our team; not because I didn’t believe in them, more because I wasn’t sure a departmental unit should have a mission/vision that was separate from what the entirety of the organization was trying to achieve. Even before taking on the new assignment I began to realize how wrong this view was. Team members were looking for a compelling reason to come to work. They didn’t just want a job; they wanted a raison d’être. A purpose. A calling. As the leader of the team it was up to me to provide it.

You might think providing a vision somehow collides with the tenets of team empowerment. That thought certainly ran through my mind, especially as people asked me what my vision was. My vision? For starters, “my vision” was to have a true team dynamic where people felt challenged, respected and empowered. How was it possible for them to do that if I dictated to them how that would happen through a vision?  I have come to realize three things about establishing a vision: 1) you can’t create a compelling vision without it connecting to something extremely powerful, 2) people want, and need, someone to lead and 3) the vision doesn’t dictate, it frees people to do what they are uniquely able to do.

As I developed my vision for the team I thought about all of the input we had received as an organization as to what we can do differently and better. I thought about all of the people who desperately wanted to be connected to something grander than we were offering. I thought about all the people who were eager to help, if only they could be connected to something important. I thought about the hopes and dreams of our team and the clients they served. And that’s when it struck me. The vision was the reflection of what I called “one thousand voices”. The vision wasn’t mine and mine alone. The vision was merely a reflection of the collective vision of hundreds, thousands, even millions of people. This is what makes it so powerful; it sings to the hearts and minds of many. People see in it what they long to see in it. It’s not mine; it is theirs. I simply give it a voice.

It took me some time to fully embrace the manifesto was mine to give and sponsor. I certainly understood I was “the boss”. I had an office, I had the title and there was my name at the top of the organizational chart for the team I was in. What I didn’t understand was I was also the leader; the person everyone would willingly follow because that person had the drive, energy, empathy, compassion, courage, will and yes, vision, to lead. Ironically, I had a strong desire to be a leader like that but was never sure I had it in me. As I worked with my coach I began to realize I was one of the few people who didn’t know I had it in me. Most people around me understood it was there and were even acknowledging it, but I wasn’t paying attention. As I slowly let go of being “the boss”, I quickly became “the leader” and the more I became the leader the more I realized people, including other leaders, needed and wanted leadership.

By denying them leadership I was denying them their opportunity to fully express the gifts they had. Their talent was suppressed by my inability to grasp it needed an environment in which to grow. By refusing to step in and lead, I let their gifts flounder because our team lacked focus, clarity and purpose. As I began to develop a crisper vision for the team, people started to focus their talents to achieve greater results. They were given an opportunity to grow, develop and contribute in a way that was meaningful to them.

This post is called “risking a manifesto”. As mentioned, this is a different way to express a mission and vision. Mission/vision statements are often not much more than a few lines long. Our manifesto is two pages long. It is a story of what we are all about as a team, what we will accomplish and how we will go about accomplishing it. Our team is still new but already people are repeating key elements of the manifesto back to me. They share with me, and others, how they see themselves in the manifesto. They tell me how much more connected they are to their work. They tell me how much more connected they are to our clients. Their reaction to the manifesto amazes and humbles me. It has emboldened me to strengthen my leadership skills as I recognize how much stronger I need to be. These are great people and I am fortunate to be amongst them. I can’t, and won’t, let them down.

The use of the word “risking” is purposeful as the manifesto dares us to be great. A manifesto isn’t the reflection of some achievable goal; some “nice to have” moment. It is a bold statement of greatness; of stretching ourselves to see just how far we can go. That’s frightening and exhilarating at the same time. It’s right there as well, in black and white. Heck, we even did it in colour in what is called a “word cloud”; a pictorial representation of the words of the manifesto. I have read it, over and over again, to our team. I talk about it all the time. I ask people to keep us all accountable to it. I dare myself to live up to it. It’s possible we won’t. It’s possible I won’t. It doesn’t matter. In the immortal words of Yoda, “there is no try, there is only do”. So we risk a manifesto because anything less is less. And less simply won’t do. We must try for something better.

I have a vision. I dare to share it with others. Do you? Will you?

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