Expanding Leadership Vision

In my experience in the realms of Safety performance, Magnifying Vision is the most underutilized of the three types of Visioning.

Everyone seems to agree that "vision" is a necessary leadership quality. In fact, in a poll on global leaders, "Vision" was consensually picked as a top leadership trait. But what does "Vision" actually mean?

I find most people's disposition toward "Vision" is the ability to look ahead into the future, to scope out what's going to happen, how to bridge gaps between where they currently are and where they want to be. But that's only one kind of vision. I've seen highest performance leadership requires three dimensions of vision. Further, envisioning is not an academic or purely intellectual exercise; it's fueled by the insistent desire to elevate Safety and overall personal and company performance to highest possible heights.

In my view, the three types of Vision are:

1. Telescopic Vision. As mentioned, this is the kind most people default toward. This vision is like scouting out the top of a mountain. It seeks to determine, "What is likely to happen?" "Where are we going in relation to the market and the world?" "What kinds of exposures/risks/Safety issues are we going to face and have to plan around or respond to?" Telescopic vision has depth of fields—nearer or more distant timeframes (e.g., next week or month or quarter or year or farther). Emphasis is on scouting out, then considering different optional paths for next-step strategies.

To develop this foresight, leaders have to honestly look at both their own personal as well as organizational strengths and limitations. Further, they must analyze trends, to determine where their momentum is heading, whether up, down or sideways. Have we been slipping, staying on a plateau, or moving up in performance? Telescopic vision requires acquiring lots of information, then ferreting out critical facts and indicators through induction, reflecting on how to become their own futurist. Telescopic vision enlists mindset (enlisting the past to choose future direction). Looking ahead is critical, but to lead to efficient actions to bridge the gap, this has to also dovetail with the following two types of vision.

2. Peripheral Vision. Attention here is directed around; it's a form of overall surround viewing. It's aimed at, "What's happening now in different parts of and throughout our company?" "What forces are at play now that are affecting us and how well are we responding?" "What are our competitors doing now?" Note the similar word "Now" in each of these questions. In contrast to Telescopic Vision, both Peripheral and Magnifying Vision are functions of Mindfulness—answering, "What's happening NOW?"

Peripheral Vision has two directional components. Internal—to the leader's company, comparing and contrasting different business units, departments, even shifts, whereas external Peripheral Vision emphasizes seeing what competitors and other companies are doing (both effectively and not so much). Benchmarking is one type of external peripheral vision. When combined with Telescopic Vision, Peripheral Vision can also provide informed answers: "To what degree might other business units or our competitors' strategies and interventions apply to our betterment?" and "What changes would we have to make in their successful applications to fit best with our unique culture and Safety risk exposures?"

3. Magnifying Vision. This focuses on "small changes" that are affecting our company; it entails enlarging perspective to see leading indicators of both success and failure. It answers the question, "What are small, early signs of either budding problems or potential solutions?"

In my experience in the realms of Safety performance, Magnifying Vision is the most underutilized of the three types of Visioning. While many leaders talk about the importance of charting "leading indicators," there's a lot less real life action when it comes to setting the stage of convincing broad swaths of leaders for the need, polling groups and getting their buy-in to select specific leading indicators, then charting, analyzing, reporting and taking the right Vision-directed actions. I get it. This takes time and effort and frequently falls to the side due to fast-pace and "bigger-picture" pressures. But enlisting Magnifying Vision (as in "the devil's in the details"—make that, "so is the angel….") confers significant power to make changes to what's not really working at a very early level  and to also reinforce those strategies, actions, and implementations that are showing incipient signs of positive results. And we know from lots of experience that enlisting Magnifying Vision is essential for initially achieving and then sustaining significant improvements with all-too-common soft-tissue and other ergonomic injuries. For more on this, see my January 2017 OH&S article, "25 Indicators of Ergonomic Progress."

Leaders can actually strengthen their Magnifying Vision skills by personalizing these through the process of self-monitoring: "Where are forces building in my body now?" "What weaknesses or strengths do I note physically and mentally now?" And more. This helps them develop the dialed-in focus that can transfer to seeing small forces at play in their company that lead down either of "desired" or "drab" or "dangerous" paths.

Note that all three types of vision don't solely rely on leaders having to see firsthand what's going on. Information can also be gathered secondhand by hearing stories and through reading accounts or assessing data. Additionally, change masters have to also incorporate scrupulous self-honesty, strategy (seeing small forces and factors at play and how to move these to where they wish to go), as well as exhibiting the enthusiasm, the energy, to drive forward.

Overall, becoming a truly "vision-able" leader entails enlisting all three types of vision toward greater Safety, productivity, and engagement.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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