Age-Old Dilemmas in Creating a Shared Vision

It came up again this week.

I heard about a Superintendent outlining the ‘way forward is forward-focused’ amidst his leadership academy. I coached Principals trying to outline one and three-year visions for their teams. I wondered how to set the stage for a brand-new service organization in my own leadership practice.

Last month, I sat in two different strategic planning meetings with two different professional facilitators. In one, we started with a defined vision and in the other a team-based creative process from scratch.

For me, this question has come up time and time again in my leadership journey.

Does the leader define the vision and facilitate the team to unfold the vision?


Does the leader facilitate the team to define the vision and then unfold it together?

We know a shared vision is essential. It’s what matters most.

“Just as personal visions are pictures or images people carry in their heads and hearts, so too are shared visions pictures that people throughout an organization carry. They create a sense of commonality that permeates the organization and gives coherence to diverse activities.”

― Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization

Maybe it’s premature to ask this question. As I’ve reflected and journaled my reflections, I wonder if there are several questions to ask ahead of this question.

What is your level of experience or comfort facilitating a shared visioning experience? What is your comfort level with change management?

It’s a VUCA world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. Because people are living amidst this dynamic, they are becoming more and more attuned to social threats. Social threats are often experienced as change.

Have you ever witnessed someone shutting down or disengaging amidst the explanation of changing dynamics? Alternatively, have anyone on your team ever become agitated or angry when change is outlined?

David Rock describes the neurodynamics of these threats and developed a framework to help us manage change more effectively. I find these 5 dynamics helpful when considering change amidst school communities.

  • Status – the perception of being considered better or worse than others
  • Certainty – the predictability of future events
  • Autonomy – the level of control we feel able to exert over our lives
  • Relatedness – the sense of having shared goals and being part of the ‘in crowd’
  • Fairness – the sense that we are being respected and treated fairly in comparison to others.

Rock’s model invites us to activate reward instead of threat. You can read more here.

How comfortable are you facilitating a shared vision that activates social rewards?

When we believe we are being treated fairly and that we have a degree of control over the future it’s easier be highly productive. We want the feelings of excitement and trust that come with engagement.

David Rock, Neuroleadership

What resources or experiences do you have at your fingertips?

While this is deep and profoundly meaningful work.

It also emerges most effectively with artful facilitation.

Almost always, large-scale organizations I’ve been privileged to be part of, have contracted with outside facilitators. However, I have also done this on a shoe-string, corraled professionals to donate volunteer time, or done it myself. We do what we must to move the organization forward.

Here are some resources empowering me and those I respect in DIY shared visioning processes.

Manifesto Playbook – Learn Forward™ by yours truly

Schools that Learn by Peter Senge

Vivid Vision by Cameron Herald

Measure What Matters by John Doerr

Legacy Workbook – Creating a Shared Vision by Angela Stockman

While all of these resources weren’t written primarily by schools; they’ve all been tested in schools and used effectively.

What does the team need to unlock its potential?

Are there sophisticated leaders and professionals who are clear about the organization’s purpose and eager to get on with the work?

Or, do you need to start at beginning?

Do you have trust established or are you still swimming upstream relationally?

How long has the bulk of your team been together? 2 months, 2 years, or 10 years. It matters.

Let’s use a sailing metaphor.

“On a day when the wind is perfect, the sail just needs to open and the world is full of beauty.”


Or, are most of you still standing on the pier?

Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

How ‘organized’ is the system within which you’re working?

Are there well-defined vision statements already; a legacy of purpose?

Does the organizational culture reflect most of what you want? Or, are there some major overhauls necessary to meet the needs of your students and community?

How engaged are all of your stakeholders? Parents, district, broader community?

Is your team inspired and clear about the horizon?

What does your organization need more: roots or wings?

How much time do you have? How long is the time horizon for which you’re planning?

Are you planning for 90-days, one year, three years, or five years. Honestly, unless you’re government or a huge institution, I’m not sure you can plan more than five years out.

Do you have a month to put a plan together or three months? Could you even stretch to take six months to set yourself up for several years?

These questions help us uncover the path to creating a shared vision. If you’d like to discuss a coaching process to support your thought leadership, please feel email me at

Nothing you do will be more significant than helping your team and school land a shared vision.

For the sake of the children,