Vision has a central place in leadership. Before we are willing to follow a leader, we want to know where we are going. What will things look like when we get there? The "vision thing," as George H.W. Bush called it, matters for us as citizens, and it matters for those who serve as part of a leader's senior staff.
It is little wonder, then, that people who study and practice leadership have been preoccupied with the notion of vision. Whether leaders achieve the ends to which they aspire has a real effect on our lives and well-being. We want to make our schools better, our businesses more prosperous, our neighborhoods safer and our government more efficient.
For those who work closely with a leader, vision drives their behavior in both a practical sense and in a much deeper way. A leader's vision not only structures what they do in their day-to-day lives but also gives them the sense that what they are doing is meaningful. In fact, good leaders rely on their advisors and confidantes to make sure they keep their eye on the big picture and don't become distracted by things that do not matter in the larger scheme of things.
Factors such as partisanship, which should not matter but often do, can also stand in the way of success. So leaders need advisers who can serve as their "eyes," anticipating roadblocks and negotiating rocky political terrain. Because leaders can hardly see everything and everyone around them, those who work closely with leaders must sometimes play a protective role by openly expressing their loyalty and by "watching the back" of the leader.
But there is another type of vision that is just as critical to good leadership and to what it means to be a good adviser. The best advisers can be trusted to make sure leaders do not lose sight of the means they are using to achieve their ends. Although there are often many ways to get the job done, only some of these ways will be in keeping with the vision the leader is trying to achieve. We expect our leaders to live their values, providing us with a model of their vision. Couple this expectation with the legitimate demand that they comply with rules that apply more generally to others, regardless of how compliance promotes or impedes goal achievement.
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