Leading With Vision
Bridging the gap
Bridging the gap
The essentials of leading with vision are beautifully captured in “The Bridge Builder”, by the acclaimed poet, Will Allen Dromgoole.
This poem illustrates several themes explored throughout this site but especially that great leaders show foresight and insight. They are prepared to set off in new directions but do not lose sight of what is to follow.
In doing so, they both lead the way and build bridges – from current reality to new vision – ensuring others can follow. Enjoy the poem then read our comments for some insights into leading with vision.
The key elements of leadership are the ability to create a vision, then to lead people towards its fulfilment. Leaders look for new opportunities or different ways to foster growth. Leaders find the new and look to the future, building on but not resting on current success.
Good leaders also look for differences and opportunities, rather than necessarily taking the most obvious or popular route. However, there is no point in being a visionary leader if your followers can’t follow, no matter how enthusiastic they might be. This is where the importance of bridge building lies, as an essential complement to vision.
An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”
Setting out in a new direction requires leaders who can not only lead the way, but who can help others to follow. Leaders who prepare the way, ensuring that others can follow. They make links between where people are, and where he or she is taking them. Not surprisingly though, encouraging people to move from current reality to new ground can cause tension.
Peter Senge likens this tension to a rubber band which connects a current situation to a desired outcome. The tension can either be relieved by “lowering” the vision, or by moving the current reality closer to that vision.
It’s the leader’s job to bridge current reality and new vision, defining goals and showing how they are attainable. Senge also advocates that creating a shared vision is much more preferable than simply sharing a vision and “bridging” towards it.
It’s also worth considering some wider senses in which “bridging” is used by those who lead with vision. Firstly, sociologists refer to social capital (the connected-ness which builds a strong society) in two ways: the social capital that bonds and the social capital that bridges. Bonding connections reinforce similarities among individuals, whereas bridging connections span differences. In practice, most societies combine both to one degree or another.
Bridging also refers to looser ties we may have to distant contacts, rather than the stronger, bonding ties we have with closer relationships. Research has shown that where networking is concerned, it’s the bridging rather than the bonding ties which may prove more beneficial.
In his book “Bowling Alone”, Robert Putnam quotes Xavier de Souza Briggs who suggests that bonding social capital is good for “getting by”, but bridging social capital is crucial for “getting ahead”. Bridging generates broader identities and reciprocity, whereas bonding bolsters a narrower perspective. Putnam imaginatively contrasts the two:
… bonding social capital constitutes a kind of sociological superglue, whereas bridging provides a sociological WD-40.
In this sense then, leading with vision promotes a sense of common purpose through internal bonding. It also builds external bridges, capitalizing on new opportunities outside of the organisation. Both may require our two complementary elements: finding new paths to take and building bridges so that others can follow.
Without one you get nowhere, without the other nobody is with you!
Leading with vision shines out from Dromgoole’s poem. Think about how you might:
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