Developing a Shared Vision

Developing a Shared Vision

Developing a Shared Vision

by Dr John Peterson, PhD, FPA-BM Chairman of the Board

Shared vision is the idea expressed of a common dream or goal of individuals in an organization, inspired into working to achieve this vision (Harris, n.d.). This paper elucidates on the concept of shared vision. This paper emphasizes the connection between leadership and shared vision; as the famous designer Ralph Lauren allegedly said, “A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done.”

In history, we bear witness to the importance of strong leadership molding a nation’s shared vision, from Abraham Lincoln to John Kennedy; and in society, we also find leaders having an impact on the changes of a generation, as the popular musical group The Beatles did.

According to Maxwell (1998), to develop a shared vision is fundamental that cause and opportunity be in place. There is no doubt that shared vision is fruit of strong leadership. Maxwell (1998) listed 21 indisputable laws of leadership, and amongst these laws, the author claimed that the true measure of leadership is influence.

Leaders can exercise this influence when sharing a vision with others. It is important that stakeholders’ empowerment shape a shared vision. As Maxwell (1998) wrote, “Only secure leaders give power to others” (p. xi). Sharing the same idea, Francis (2002) stated that, there is an increasing recognition among leaders, in which building and integrating commitment among all stakeholders maximizes the long-term success of an organization.

According to Leavitt (2005), there is a three-part model for the modern leadership process, as shown on the following Table.

Table – Leavitt’s three-part model of the managing/leading process

Phase 1

Phase 2

Phase 3

Pathfinding (sic)

Problem solving


Relates to the vision, values, and sense of purpose

Relates to the ability to think in an orderly, systematic, logic way

Relates to the effectiveness in getting things done with and through people

Note: Source: Adapted from Leavitt (2005, pp. 144-159).

English (2008) elucidated that there is a subtle difference between managers and true leaders, by explaining that managers have a duty of loyalty to an organization, and true leaders have an inquisitive mind that transcends the organization; however, they both are stakeholders of a shared vision; they both are the social assets developing a shared vision.

Green (2009) wrote that school leaders manage the organizational system (the school) to achieve established goals. In order to achieve effective leadership, the leader has to acquire knowledge and understanding of the needs, beliefs and values of individuals and groups on the organization, and as a result, leaders are required to operate with a shared vision and compelling mission. Collaboration is essential to the leader and school’s success.

To develop a shared vision a leader has to sacrifice his or her immediate self-interest. Plato (as cited in Ciulla, 2004) wrote that if a leader were a just person, leadership would take a toll on him or her. Plato (as cited in Ciulla, 2004) explained that the only reason a person will take a leadership role is out of fear of punishment. “Now the greatest punishment, if one is not willing to rule, is to be ruled by someone worse than oneself. And I think it is fear of this that makes decent people rule when they do” (Ciulla, 2004, p. 316).

It is very interesting to observe that the fundamental role of a leader when developing a shared vision is one of altruistic motives. A true leader will look after the interests of others as a moral quality of his or her leadership. In addition, as English (2008) pointed out, a leader who is doing his or her job is someone who is reflecting the aspiration of the social network to which he or she belongs to make a difference.

Drucker (2007) wisely indicated that an organization has to be transparent: “People have to know and have to understand the organization structure they are supposed to work in. This sounds obvious – but it is far too often violated in most institutions (even in military)” (p. 10). Drucker (2007) also stated that someone in the organization must have the authority to make the final decision in a given area, have the command in a moment of crisis, and have authority commensurate with responsibility. Drucker’s words fit the concepts of a shared vision developed with the authority of leadership, an ethical and altruistic authority.

Through the years, there has been many ways to define and conceptualize leadership. The common understanding about leadership is that leadership is a process that assists groups of individuals in the direction of obtaining their goals (Northouse, 2010).

Leadership and Shared Vision

Leaders float above mediocrity. They have an unobstructed view from above the crowd. However, true leaders stay grounded by ties with trusted people; this connection with a few selected followers is necessary in order for leaders to avoid getting lost on visions that become unrealistic. Leaders must see the overall map, the vast territory, to select the best path to lead the people trusting in him or her.

Tracy (2010) stated that vision is the most important single quality of leadership. The qualities of a leader, having a clear vision of where they are going and what they are trying to accomplish, change he or she from a “transactional manager into a transformational leader” (Tracy, 2010, p. 15). A manager will get the job done; a true leader will strike into the emotion of his or her followers.

Furthermore, as Price and Ritcheske (2001) explained, true leaders seek power and control in order to set directions, philosophy, and strategy. For true leaders a healthy amount of individuality is necessary for them to control their own destiny first. Leaders should understand their core values of accountability, integrity, and reliability if they wish to succeed in their destiny.

Developing a Shared Vision

A shared vision is component of an organization’s culture, and as Pottruck (2002) explained, culture transforms change to progress, by providing the foundation of “what does not change to allow everything to change rapidly” (p. 52). In addition, as claimed by Pottruck (2002), culture is the reason we work together. This is a significant concept for a shared vision, because it implies that the alignment established by working together is an effective way to achieve our goals on a fast-paced globalized world.

An organization to prosper has to share a vision that stimulates people to want to succeed. This vision will stimulate people to learn and to excel at their jobs, not because of an obligation, but because they want to. It is fundamental for a leader to understand that a shared vision will bring people together to work on a common goal, which all stakeholders have personally invested in creating (Oosterwal, 2010).

Although an organization’s mission statement is crucial to the success of its goals and objectives, a shared vision has to go beyond the mission statement. A shared vision has to concern values, vision, mission, purpose, and goals. The problem with leaders when they fail to translate their personal vision to a shared vision is the lack of discipline. According to Oosterwal (2010), principles and guiding practices are absent when a group shares a vision.

Oosterwal (2010) suggested that the art of building a shared vision requires establishing a common perspective of the current situation, then involves the skill of “unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’” (Oosterwal, 2010, p. 56); however, leaders should master the ability to recognize it is counterproductive to dictate a personal vision, no matter how genuine it may be.

Shared vision will propagate on an organization because of the nature of human beings to reinforce commitment, enthusiasm, and clarity. By discussing a shared vision people will learn more about it, allowing additional refinement of the vision and clarifying it even further (Oosterwal, 2010). As the cycle continues, the clear the vision becomes more it will propagate.

Shared Vision and Communication

Leaders will share their vision; however, their vision is a complex one. It is easier for a true leader to share a vision with other leaders, who also float at his or her height and can understand better what is seem. The average people, the people grounded on earth, the one that only can visualize their immediate surroundings, are limited on the understanding of the greater panoramic vision leaders have. It is the leader’s job to translate this vision to the common people. That is way communication skills are fundamental on a true leader, as it is also the ability to connect with the reality of all people.

Communicating a shared vision is crucial to its understanding among followers. The most strong communication tool is language. “Language is a system of shared symbols; it includes speech, written characters, numeral symbols, and nonverbal gestures and expressions” (Witt, 2011, p. 54). True leaders, when implementing a shared vision, understand that language, as communication, provides the foundation of a common culture because it facilitates day-to-day exchanges with others, making collective action possible (Witt, 2011)

Shared Vision and Ethics

There should be a strong concern with ethics when developing a shared vision. Leaders have the greatest influence in developing a shared vision, and consequently, a major responsibility on applying ethical principles to it. According to Bagley and Savage (2006), compliance with the law is the foundation for effective and responsible decision-making action. Bagley and Savage (2006) explained that leaders should ask themselves if an action is legal, and “if an action is not in accordance with the letter and spirit of the law, then, regardless of the likely effect on shareholder value, the action should not be taken” (Bagley & Savage, 2006, p. 14). This principle of ethical approach for a shared vision is crucial on the long-term success of its ideals and goals.

Leaders and Shared Vision in the Coming Years

Bob Johansen, of the Institute for the Future (IFTF), an independent, nonprofit think tank, claimed that in a world of increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, (what he called VUCA), leaders must learn new skills in order to make a better future. Moreover, key among those new skills, Johansen identified, is the ability to “see through messes and contradictions” to a future that others cannot yet see (as cited by Nichols, 2010, para. 2).

According to Nichols (2010), leadership is about encouraging and inspiring others to envision the future by “painting a picture” (para. 2) of exciting possibilities. “People don’t often admit that they are an artist or extremely creative. Yet, these talents are demonstrated by highly effective leaders in their everyday activities when they see through messes and contradictions, painting a picture that excites and inspires” (Nichols, 2010, para. 2).

Leaders in coming years will have to be competent, confident, and their individual followers as strong as well. Leaders will be more involved in social changes, and in social networking through technology.


A shared vision is fruit of a collaborative effort between stakeholders of its dreams and objectives, led by a truly ethical leader who sees other people’s interests as his or her own. A shared vision is fundamental on the success of an enterprise, especially an educational organization where a leader has so many individuals and groups to attend to in a transparent and altruistic manner.


Bagley, C. E., & Savage, D. W. (2006). Managers and the legal environment: Strategies for the 21st century (5th ed.). Mason, OH: Thomson Higher Education.

Ciulla, J. (2004). Ethics and leadership effectiveness. In J. Antonakis, A. T. Clanciolo, & R. T. Sternberg (Eds.), The nature of leadership (pp. 302-327). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Drucker, P. (2007). Management challenges for the 21st century. Oxford, UK: Elsevier. (Original work published 1999).

English, F. W. (2008). The art of educational leadership: Balancing performance and accountability. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Francis, J. S. (2002). The stakeholder’s view. In M. Ashby & S. Miles (Eds.), Leaders talk leadership: Top executives speak their minds (pp. 171-208). New York, NY: OxfordUniversity Press.

Green, R. L. (2009). Practicing the art of leadership: A problem-based approach to implementing the ISLLC standards (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Harris, C. (n.d.). Shared visions in organizations. Pyramid ODI . Retrieved from

Leavitt, H. J. (2005). Top down: Why hierarchies are here to stay and how to manage them effectively. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Maxwell, J. C. (1998). The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership: Follow them and people will follow you. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Nichols, J. (2010, July). Back to the future [Article]. Retrieved from Leadership Challenge by John Wiley, & Sons Web site:

Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Oosterwal, D. (2010). The lean machine: how Harley-Davidson drove top-line growth and profitability with revolutionary lean product development. New York, NY: American Management Association.

Pottruck, D.S. (2002). Leading by creating a values-based culture and inspiring commitment. In M. Ashby & S. Miles (Eds.), Leaders talk leadership: Top executives speak their minds (pp. 50-55). New York, NY: OxfordUniversity Press.

Price, B., & Ritcheske, G. (2001). True leaders: How exceptional CEOs and Presidents make a difference by building people and profit. Chicago, IL: Dearborn.

Tracy, B. (2010). How the best leaders lead: Proven secrets to getting the most out of yourself and others. New York, NY: American Management Association.

Trilling, B., & Fadel, C. (2009). 21 century skills: Learning for life in our times. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Witt, J. (2011). SOC 2011. New York: McGraw-Hill.

The FPA-BM has as Chairman of the Board Dr. John Peterson, Ph.D. A leading education specialist for over 15 years, Dr. John Peterson is a published author and the creator and implementer of several undergraduate and graduate programs. Emphasizing practical access to learning methodologies, Dr. Peterson has developed curricula focused on online and face-to-face training, optimizing new technologies for the benefit of his students’ achievements in real-world careers. In addition, Dr. Peterson is an experienced consultant to the requirements of the Florida Department of Education regarding the licensing and compliance of new institutions.