The Leader as a Curator

Sometimes I hear leaders say, “I just don’t have any more vision.” They can see the work, but they can’t see the payoff anymore. They can still see the “what to do”, but they don’t feel the “why to do it” in the same way that they did in the past.

That’s a tough place for a leader to be in because he/she is required to stand before the people at various times and inspire them with a shared vision. After all, there are many people working hard, and they have vision fatigue too. So the leader has the responsibility to encourage them, refocus the vision, remind them of how far they’ve come, and harness their collective energy for the next step.

But what if he/she doesn’t feel very visionary or inspiring at the moment? How can you be inspiring when you aren’t inspired? The typical range of solutions for this level of burnout may range anywhere from: “get some extra rest” to “go to an inspiring conference” to “find a new place” with the hopes that a change of scenery will bring back the fire inside. It’s likely that in the course of his/her life, most leaders will find those things to be a helpful antidote. But maybe there’s a less radical solution.

I’ve started to entertain the idea that maybe visions don’t start with the leader. Maybe visions come from the people. There was a time in my life that the idea of asking others to participate in creating the vision seemed—well—wrong! I was afraid that it would be the wrong vision or that with so many voices, the vision would be incoherent.

Don’t misunderstand me, there’s still a place for the leader to discern, refine, and cast a vision. But, before the leader becomes the articulator of the vision, there is a sense in which he/she is a curator.

So, one option is to develop a system where everyone has a chance to think strategically about the questions and issues facing the organization and to dialogue with one another about them. The leaders can accumulate the various ideas and use them to craft a coherent “shared” vision. While a process like this requires time, it helps to create “buy in” from the very beginning.

Leaders give voice to our own aspirations. But knowing those aspirations, and in fact, helping the people be able to get in touch with their own aspirations means providing a forum in which they have the chance to talk, and the leader has a chance to listen. If you’re looking for a fresh vision for your team, you might be surprised to discover that “we” really is smarter than “me.”

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

2 responses

  1. Great read. I think the vision can come from anyone/where but it is the leader who brings it into focus. Its like saying, “I want to travel abroad!” Well does that mean Siberia or San Juan. Do I want to visit the polar ice cap or the Palace at Versais…

    1. Thanks, Enna! And your comments are always so great to read.

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