I look forward to going to work every day. I know that sounds trite, but it is true. I have not always been able to say that. Don’t get me wrong – not everything about my job is easy or fun. Like the long walks down the sky bridge to catch my early morning flights, staying in unfamiliar hotels where the shower water never stays the same temperature, and trying to stay patient as the airlines announce another flight delay home at the end of the week. Despite these things, I continue to mentally (if not always physically) jump out of bed each morning thinking about how the work I do helps organizations improve and help people gain greater satisfaction and productivity from their work.
This all reminds me of a World War II movie I watched a couple of years ago. In the movie, two US military paratroopers had parachuted into German occupied territory in Southern France, and their challenge was to avoid capture by the enemy and rejoin Allied forces. Each time the soldiers faced an obstacle or challenging situation, one would vocally recite the Airborne Creed. This seemed a little odd at first, but the more he repeated the Creed, the more I understood why.
According to the Oxford dictionary, a creed is defined as “a set of beliefs or aims that guide someone’s actions”. According to the opening paragraph of the Airborne Creed, a soldier acknowledges that he/she volunteered for the assignment to parachute from any plane in flight – knowing full well the hazards of their choice and that someday they may have to fight without support for days on end. In addition, the Creed speaks to the high expectations of teamwork, loyalty, trust, preparation, and endurance. Rewards for the soldier’s membership in this elite group are victory in battle, prestige, honor, and high esprit-de-corps of parachute troops. These high standards and outcomes create a compelling and shared vision for each member of the military company. Each soldier knows why they are “here” and why their role is vital to accomplish their mission.
In his popular book, Start With Why, Simon Senik, explains that leaders inspire others when they focus first on the “why” to tap into people’s motivation before addressing the “how” and the “what”. In Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline, he states:
A shared vision is not an idea. It is not even an important idea such as freedom. It is, rather, a force in people’s hearts, a force of impressive power. It may be inspired by an idea, but once it goes further – if it is compelling enough to acquire the support of more than one person – then it is no longer an abstraction. . . Few, if any, forces in human affairs are as powerful as shared vision.
How does this apply to leading people and organizations through change? Do your project teams and team members have the same level of clarity and commitment to their role and to the project as Airborne paratroopers? As a project leader, have you helped them to build and communicate a compelling and shared vision where each person knows “why” they were selected for your project? Has your shared vision become a powerful force in people’s hearts?
When we reach the point in our jobs where we know why we are “here” and why our role is vital to our organization’s mission, we will look forward to work each morning despite any challenges we may encounter. In conclusion, during times of organizational change, leaders should build and share their vision through a Case for Change – a clear and simple document that outlines the business case for change, the future state, and benefits that will come from the change. Through these discussions, leaders will engage with key stakeholders, gather valuable input for their change strategy, and establish a platform to communicate the change in a unified and consistent manner. These steps will help to launch the vision that will become a powerful force to assist leaders in the change.