Vision - "I am Spartacus"
Updated: May 20, 2021
The Fifth Discipline" by Peter Senge introduces the the concept of a shared vision - a learning organization, archetypes, systems thinking and much more - it is one of my favorite books. He retells the story of Spartacus from 71 B. C. where Marcus Crassus asks the defeated slave army to hand over their leader Spartacus "because we do not know him by sight". After Spartacus stands up and says "I am Spartacus" so does each man in his army - they are all Spartacus, and in saying so they chose death. Their loyalty was to the shared vision that Spartacus had inspired - that they could be free men. Senge then transitions to learnings from AT&T, Ford and Apple. How often do you see a historical leap like that in a business book?
We are all familiar with the "vision slide" (sometimes it is a mission slide but it is the same concept for our purposes here). Often, the vision slide is created after a transformational initiative is conceived and becomes part of the "sell deck" or "walking deck". The initiative leader creates it and we all nod our heads and agree that it is a worthy vision. It becomes the first page of every initiative "deck".
However, in most cases it is not a "shared vision", and few people even think it is achievable. It is just some vaguely inspiring corporate pabulum that people broadly agree with and then skip over to the initiative capabilities or outcomes that most benefit their function. When the initiative fails to deliver as promised, we get a range of comments from "that was really (the initiative leaders) vision", to "I never really agreed with the vision" to "the vision was never really achievable". Certainly, there are no "I am Spartacus" moments.
But as Senge points out success depends on a "shared vision". This means it needs to be achievable, reviewed, debated, agreed, and embraced by all leaders of the transformational initiative, not just the initiative leader.
So the next time you see a transformational initiative "vision slide" ask each person on the leadership team (and others) do they share it and believe it is achievable? Work it with the leadership team until it is. You may not get to an "I am Spartacus" moment but without a shared vision, at least amongst the leadership team, you will go down to defeat.
What is alignment? How do we align around an initiative? How do we know we are aligned? These are really hard questions. Questions we are answering at AlignedAround. I would welcome your thoughts.
Senge, P. M. (2006). The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. Doubleday.
Extract above based on the movie Spartacus (1960).