Vision, Strategy & Leadership
Management consulting is a lucrative but also laborious business: The old and proven should remain and yet everything should become different.
What is desired is an egg-laying willow sow, introduced in a change process that hurts no one, along the lines of “wash me, but don’t get my fur wet”.
Because all this does not work in reality, I have compiled the following texts as a definition of terms.
So at least we know what we’re talking about.
to which one aspires,
one longs for,
that one would like to realize,
then there is also no motive,
to make an effort.
Why change something when the tried and tested works – perhaps not optimally, but everything has worked more or less well up to now. Moreover, every change involves incalculable risks – who can look into the future?
Man is a creature of habit, and a vision, something fundamentally new, is nothing more than a crank for most people at first.
If you look at the spinning process in detail, this comparison is not far-fetched either: during spinning, a thread is created from loose fibers by simultaneously twisting and pulling them apart.
The skill of the person spinning is to release as many fibers from the fiber supply as is required for the thickness of the desired thread and to direct as much twist into the thread as is required for its desired strength.
There are moments when a vision shows itself clearly in thought. But as soon as we try to grasp it, it evaporates. The loose thoughts became spirit, but did not develop stability. It remains a crank.
The vision does not come to the ground and does not become material. It lacks spin, or as they say nowadays, it has no “spin” and no “agenda setting.”
In this case, it is often not even due to the original vision but to the censor in the head, a merciless reason that is able to crush any idea, no matter how good, beyond recognition with the reference to constraints and reality. The vast majority of visions fail not because of their content, but because of the trust in the vision and the integrity in the implementation.
A vision, on the other hand, that is supported without any ifs and buts by trust in the process and the people it affects will at least plant a seed in the soil.
The process of crystallization
I compare a vision with a crystallization germ: With continuous stirring, a lot of salt can be dissolved in a glass of lukewarm water without it crystallizing. If I let the solution rest and the critical amount of saturation is exceeded, one salt crystal is enough to solidify the entire solution in the glass.
This experiment requires patience and a fair amount of crystalline salt. This does not work with ordinary household salt – it has lost its crystalline structure through the process of grinding and has thus largely forfeited its molecular bonding properties.
A vision that has not been crushed shines like a crystal, will resonate with its surroundings, and an exchange of energy can occur. The chemical process of crystallization is nothing else: a natural structure oriented to the crystal lattice of the crystal thrown into the solution.
What visions are so pure that they trigger this process?
Selfish ideas certainly aren’t. Integrity, truth and clarity are lacking here.
However, if a vision is supported by values and these reflect the inner attitude, it can be a good basis for a strategy.
to lay apple tarts instead of eggs.
The matter fell through.
And what for?
The chicken is set up for eggs!
Many an idea has been destroyed this way!
Not every idea or vision is suitable for a strategy – especially not one that just follows a zeitgeist, wants to do everything completely differently or is so-called “best practice”.
Chickens don’t lay apple tarts and they don’t lay golden eggs – even if they were taught differently in the last strategy seminar and hundreds of consultants of the “Big Five” are whistling it from the rooftops.
The human being remains a human being.
He has dreams and aspirations, and it is precisely these that need to be awakened when translating a vision into a strategy. People want to be taken along and inspired, and that goes far beyond the compensation of wage labor.
Developing a strategy is the best way to test the vision for reasonableness and feasibility.
Does everyone involved understand the vision? Do they want to follow her?
Strategy development is always a bottom-up process. It should be grassroots, with clear rules, open and without a hidden agenda.
Authentic “bottom up” in this case means that employees at every level of the hierarchy from every affected area are involved in the development process. In the case of financial processes, this could be the employees at the workbench, and in the case of software implementations, it could be the cleaning staff.
This is where the first objections come in: most top managers consider lower levels of the hierarchy to be ignorant and often assume that these employees do not understand complex processes, economic necessities and the necessary nasty mousing around. In addition, there is a fear of a palace revolution in most companies – only that will come anyway, even if the change process is served in portion-sized slices.
So I can arrogantly steer through from the top, duck away, or acknowledge that each employee knows his or her area and processes better than I will ever understand them. And yes, this also applies to the piece-rate and piece-worker, the receptionist and the janitor.
If I accept my not knowing, I take the first step towards people and invite them to contribute their share and their own vision to the strategy.
All of this requires no special effort, but it does require the courage to say goodbye to power and vanity and to deal with everyone involved on an equal footing.
Only in this way will I recognize everyone’s “egg-laying” potential and, if I am skilled, I can incorporate it into the change process.
A Chinese proverb says, “When the wind of change blows, some build walls and others windmills.”
Where walls stand, no wind blows, and every windmill becomes futile. Tearing down walls later costs more energy than open conversations and bottom-up workshops. Explaining in advance the futility of walls against the “wind of change” is time-consuming but in many cases prevents programmed failure. In the final analysis, it will whistle through every crack anyway.
So the bottom-up approach is not about blocking or bending change. The aim is to implement these as efficiently as possible and constructively with the involvement of all employees. Trends and consultant language lose their power here at the latest – the wheat is separated from the chaff. People have a good sense of vain ideas or actual progress and securing the future.
Just as people long for the fulfillment of their desires and dreams, they fear change. Successful strategy development takes this paradox into account, but neither buckles nor uses the cudgel of authority. She takes her time and responds empathetically but clearly to any reservations or objections, always keeping in mind that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
If the vision is right and the strategy has been developed, it should be supported by everyone and must be implemented top-down for the sake of credibility alone, even against remaining resistance if necessary.
There are always adjustments, but even the thought of unraveling the entire package at a later date dooms the strategy to failure.
From Marc Twain comes the phrase: “I can’t give you a formula for success, but I can give you a formula for certain failure: Try to please everybody.”
There are only bad officers.
Most leadership concepts are based on “encourage and challenge,” “leadership coaching,” or “grow or go.” They appeal to primal reflexes, base instincts, and follow the jungle law of “eat or be eaten.” If you don’t learn fast enough that you live in a selfish society driven by predatory capitalism, you are a poor sap and will be sorted out. You may be a friendly, sociable person and have values, but if you don’t have that “faster, better, bigger, farther” part in you, if you’ve lost greed and narcissism, then increasing efficiency and improving returns won’t work.
This is conventional thinking, and regardless of training in mindfulness, nonviolent communication, and de-escalation techniques, it still usually defines our leadership culture.
This has nothing to do with actual efficiency, motivation and clarity. That it nevertheless works is due to economic theory, which has not changed since Marx’s time and which, in combination with behaviorism, the doctrine of conditioning, perfectly unfolds its potential of carrot and stick in uncertain times.
However, all of this is nothing more than playing on the fear of employees and has nothing to do with genuine leadership and charisma.
A little story of charisma, quality and excellence
To understand why we have lost access to charismatic leadership, it is worth taking a trip to the roots of our Western culture and how, over millennia, the original quality and inherent excellence of everything was first suppressed and then forgotten by supposed reason and political philosophy.
Therefore, let’s go backwards and start at the last dagger strike on quality.
Seduction and oratory
It was Aristotle who developed the art of speech, rhetoric. I don’t want to accuse Aristotle of anything, but the “art of language” as a competition became the power of language in our time. A language that is not only spoken with words, but also comes across in presentations, process descriptions, leadership coaching and much more. Language, originally serving the purpose of understanding and finding the truth, has degenerated into a technique of manipulation, playing with reflexes and neuro-guidance. And it works.
I do nothing else in this text: I lead and seduce through metaphors and images. I create the narrative of good versus bad leadership.
This is, of course, bull-shit. There are as few good as there are bad leadership. There are leadership techniques and an attitude. If I do not have the corresponding inner attitude, leadership will not work, regardless of all rhetorical skills. If, on the other hand, I have an attitude of trust and integrity, I will not need techniques or words.
The search for “the” truth
Before the time of Aristotle, Greek philosophy was mainly determined by Plato. With him, language, even when he asked manipulative questions, had a purpose: it served the search for “the” truth that Plato’s hero Socrates believed he could discover through skillful disputation. A thesis was put forward, then the counter-arguments were examined, and out came a synthesis in elaborate dialogues. A platonic dialogue is therefore nothing else than a language- and knowledge-oriented mediation process of different truths. However, and this makes this procedure questionable, always under the condition that the one “unconditional” truth is found in the synthesis.
However, there is one dialogue of Plato that grows beyond the synthesis: it is the Phaidros (translated: Wolf). This dialogue does not find the answers in any kind of truth on the outside, but points to the inner compass. The dialogue concludes with the words, “But Phaedrus, must we ask others what is right or wrong?”
In this text of Plato it is recognizable that Plato and the school of Socratics know an inner compass of whatever kind. He is not completely lost yet; they have to look for him. It is no longer part of everyday life, although the centuries before Plato and all the poetry and myths of that time are characterized by precisely this inner compass.
Excellence and collective happiness
Before Plato and his hero Socrates, Greek philosophy is defined by the pre-Socratics. Homer’s stories date from their time, so also the Odyssey of Ulysses.
The entire “moral” thinking, the compass of the pre-Socratics, thereby revolves around two now forgotten concepts:
There is the concept of “eudaimonia”, which means happiness or bliss. However, this happiness can never be found on the outside, but only after an arduous search within oneself. Once it is found, this happiness, according to the ideas of the pre-Socratics, leads to serenity and calmness of mind, which can serve the outside, give unselfishly and give oneself away, which in turn should produce bliss.
The other term deals with the path to “eudaimonia” and is called “arete”, which roughly translated means excellence. Excellence, does not describe specific actions or heroism. Excellence in the sense of the pre-Socratics describes an attitude towards oneself and the world. It is a searching and creative playing with adventures in the inner world (symbolized by the gods) and the outer world, in which the experience of one’s own development manifests itself as shrewd audacity. The Odyssey tells this story using the example of its hero Odysseus.
Since such a journey is arduous and requires great self-discipline and self-knowledge in addition to sophistication, the vast majority avoid it. They then, depending on their intellect, either dwell in the Socratic world of supposed truth-finding or play with words whose effect they know but whose deeper meaning is beyond them.
They remain dangerous seducers because they avoid feeling the pain it takes to lead charismatically.
Such leadership, needs an open heart, compassion, gentleness, clarity, strength and vision. I can understand anyone who says, then I’d rather stick with the tried and true. I also said that for a long time – until fate and my curiosity forced me to evolve.
Nevertheless, every human being has an inkling of the inner compass, except that when he seeks it, he often encounters an inner emptiness and a sense of meaninglessness.
The ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss is credited with the phrase “When the explorers come, the gods leave”. This is also the case here: When we try to find the inner compass with our everyday methods (which includes any form of personal development, coaching and therapy), it eludes us.
One reason is that we have banished the magical and playing with the magical from the rational world. There is no room for magic, mysticism and the romantically intuitive in a clocked everyday life. The world is disenchanted.
Leadership is therefore first and foremost self-leadership, and this requires the openness to let oneself in beyond the comfort zone and to face the worlds hidden within. That takes courage and a willingness to take a hit. It is not for nothing that the journey to oneself is called the “hero’s journey”. It is uncomfortable, painful and shameful. It is like cleaning up a filthy house that reeks with betrayal and self-betrayal and whose ridiculously dressed-up facade is supposed to conceal its actual condition.
But that’s how all personality development begins – with ruthless but compassionate cleanup.
Only in this way can we find the compass hidden within us and the corresponding set of values. Only in this way do we discover our aching heart and with it compassion for others. Only in this way do we penetrate to strong gentleness – charisma.
After the work is done, our eyes will detach from our beloved but lack-built dream world and see the world in all its fullness, but also death and our own transience.
We grow up and part with the toys and desires of our childhood.
Developing self-leadership is a journey that often takes several years, sometimes a lifetime. There is no “done” here – there is only the decision to set out.
Zen Buddhism says: “Zen mind is beginner’s mind”, which means nothing else than that every day I start anew to discover myself, this wonderfully terrible world and my interaction with it.
A proverb of unknown origin says: “There are two ways of being a shepherd: One runs behind the flock, drives them, throws stones, roars and pushes. The other shepherd does it quite differently: he walks in front, sings, is cheerful, and the sheep follow him.”