Many would have us believe that corporate vision is the key role of a leader. I agree it is of critical importance but Fourth Question Leaders need to do more with vision. As with every part of a Fourth Question leadership approach, vision can serve the interests of the people you lead as much as, if not more than, the organisation within which you lead. The key role of a leader, in the Fourth Question leadership approach, is helping those being led become the best they can be.

It is generally accepted in leadership literature that vision is a compelling, shared picture of a preferred future. Most organisations have responded to the plethora of books and leadership and management articles on the topic of leadership by developing pithy vision statements. These statements are often seen as responses to what is seen as the key role of a leaser. They are often proudly displayed in reception and staff areas of the business. Many of these statements might actually be significant for a while. Sadly, many simply gather dust on the wall and do not add value to the day to day activities of a business, or those who work within it.

Take some time to ask yourself a few questions: Where do I see myself in five, ten, twenty years’ time? What is my ideal occupation? How would I get to it if I am not there now? What position would I like to hold in my current occupation of it is already what I love doing? What education, training and skills would I need to learn in order to be there? If I live a long life what would I like to think my parents, spouse, children, friends, co-workers and employers would say about me if they could all speak at my funeral? Who is a key role model or hero for me? With some thought, and occasionally some coaxing, most people can answer these questions. The answers you give to them are the building blocks of your personal vision. That’s right – your personal vision.

The key role of a leader lies in helping others identify and achieve their personal visions.

We all have dreams and aspirations. We can all think about the future and develop a picture in our minds of what we would prefer ours to be like.

Fourth Question leaders, those motivated to serve others, strive to help followers to clarify their personal visions. They understand this is the key role of a leader.

“What,” I hear you say, “surely a leader must put the vision of the company first!” Well, that is the prevailing view of most leadership literature. Even Greenleaf in his seminal work on servant leadership (which is essentially the foundation of Fourth Question leadership) says that a leader must serve both the interested of the company as well as the followers. I have no argument with this thinking at all.

The interests of the company are best served when team members are motivated by personal as well as corporate vision.

What I am suggesting is that the interests of the company are best served when team members are being motivated by a personal as well as a corporate vision. If you imagine two circles, one representing the corporate vision and one representing an individual team member’s vision, it is the degree of overlap which exists between the two at any point in time which reveals the most useful information for a leader. When the individual circle is completely inside the corporate circle the team member is fully serving both visions. As the circles begin to separate there will come a time when it is in the best interests of both parties for there to be a parting of the ways. At this point, if being true to the key role of a leader, the focus will be to help someone leave well and find a place where their personal vision has greater overlap with the vision of their new employer.

As long as I can see myself moving towards my pictures of a preferred future while I am helping my company to do the same there can be a great ‘fit’ for us both. Once I need to work in different ways to see myself moving towards my preferred future I will not be content, or fulfilled in my role. Then it is time for me to move on.

“Hang on a minute,” I hear you interject, “isn’t the key role of a  Fourth Question leader about putting aside my own ambitions in preference to those of team members?” Yep. You got it! That’s the tension of the paradox. You will always be driven, from somewhere deep within you, to be better, to reach your potential. Fourth Question leadership does not suggest that you put this aside. Rather it proposes that you harness these internal drives. It argues that when you are in a place when your circle falls largely within whatever corporate vision you are serving you will be best able to focus on the needs of others relaxed in the knowledge that, as you do so, you are being pulled along in the slipstream of their successes. Ideally would not be why you serve others. Over time inherent selfishness and ego become quieter voices and we serve others because it is the right thing to do. We get our key role right!