Using Vision to Inspire Ideal Possible Selves
In 2013 Robert Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, signed his very last contract. The document stated that he was to step down as chief executive and chairman in June, 2016. Thomas O. Staggs was expected to take his place. In April of 2016, however, Staggs, abruptly changed his mind; he did not want to become Disney's next CEO after all.
Although being CEO of Disney sounds like a glamorous job, the problem is that no one can seem to measure up to the charismatic leadership of Iger. He has led Disney since 2005 and excelled even in the face of economic downturns and changing consumer habits. In other words, Iger is a tough act to follow. This situation is actually quite common in the business world. New leaders come in and are often nervous about how they will fill the shoes of the previous legend that they are replacing.
So how can new leaders capture and mobilize their followers successfully? One possible mechanism is through communication of an effective vision. A vision is an ideal, future-oriented image that focuses on values and norms of an organization (Stam, van Knippenber, & Wisse, 2010). It is the leader’s image for where they want the company to go. Communicating such a vision is essential to improving both individual follower and overall company performance.
But what makes a vision effective? Previous research has found that vision communication is more effective with metaphors (Mio, Riggio, Levin, & Reese, 2005) and words that create a mental picture (Emrich, Brower, Feldman, & Garland, 2001). By communicating the vision in this way, the vision is more appealing to followers because they are able to paint an image of an idealized future. As a consequence, followers picture themselves as part of this vision, which may result in greater employee engagement and consequently a more actionable vision.
When an individual sees him or herself as an integral element of a meaningful vision statement, it could lead that person to create an ideal possible self. An ideal possible self is a person’s most desired image of oneself, or the person that they imagine themselves to be at their best (Stam et al., 2010). If a leader’s vision causes followers to create ideal possible selves, this leads to improved follower motivation and performance.
Visions that explicitly focus on followers (i.e., by addressing followers personally and involving them in the vision) are more likely to lead to the creation of an ideal self. Subsequently, followers are more motivated to perform.
Emrich, C. G., Brower, H. H., Feldman, J. J., & Garland, H. (2001). Images in words: Presidential rhetoric, charisma, and greatness. Administrative Science Quarterly, 46, 527−557.
Mio, J. S., Riggio, R. E., Levin, S., & Reese, R. (2005). Presidential leadership and charisma: The effects of metaphor. The Leadership Quarterly, 16, 287−294.
Stam, D., van Knippenberg, D., & Wisse, B. (2010). Focusing on followers: The role of regulatory focus and possible selves in visionary leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 21, 457-468.
Image from Pixabay