Is vision a filter or a frame?

As I research senior leadership teams in higher education who have led successful, adaptive change, one thing that stands out is the strength of the vision the leader sets and the commitment of the team to pursue that vision together.

The shared vision and mission motivate the team towards unity and excellence.

But that’s not news. I get it. It’s boring. Pick up any book on leadership, and you’ll find a section on vision.

But when we talk about vision, it’s usually in the context of inspiration. It’s implied the (often inspirational) clarity motivates and unifies the team.

I’m beginning to think it’s the other way around. Rather than a clear vision helping a team unify around a cause, it seems like most often, a clear vision helps people opt in or opt out. Knowing what the team is committed to and fanatical about provides an immediate cue for people as to whether or not they’ll resonate with the work.

These teams talk a lot about hiring well. They respectfully share about folks who have exited because it wasn’t a fit. They recognize the courage it takes for a leader to set clear expectations and – at times – help someone leave who isn’t following through.

I know strong cultures can be polarizing. But successful teams usually have strong cultures.

Successful teams have clarity. But if it’s due to an opt-in/opt-out effect, we don’t want to be caught surprised when transitions happen. They may not signal failure. They may just show that the vision is taking hold.

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