Share Your Vision and Your People Will Follow

29 Jun


Abraham Lincoln had a way of explaining what the Civil War was really all about on a personal level so that people felt it and understood it.

The official reason, of course, was to save the Union, but for many that was too high level; too abstract.

How did it affect the average person?

Lincoln phrased it this way in a speech to men of an Ohio regiment returning home to their families:

“I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House.  I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father’s child has. It is in order that each of you may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence; that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained, that we may not lose our birthright.  The nation is worth fighting for, to secure such an inestimable jewel.”

By painting a picture of what life would be like after winning the war, Lincoln was able to inspire a great majority of Northerners to his side.

In her book Leading So People Will Follow, Erika Andersen describes this essential trait of leaders as farsightedness:

When leaders have the skill to share their farsightedness with their followers, “…their clarity of vision and their articulation of a successful future pull people out of fear or shortsightedness and into hopefulness and a sense of purpose. People want leaders who look beyond today.”[i]

Sharing the vision to justify a long and bloody war was essential to Lincoln’s followers, and he managed to do it well over his four years in office, speaking and writing to thousands about the need for the war to continue until victory was obtained.

The results?

  • Despite many dark and desperate periods for the Union, Lincoln was able to maintain enough support for the war effort to keep it going.
  • The people eventually understood the Civil War wasn’t just about slavery, freedom, the principles of republican government, or the best hope for the world; it was also about their own future success, hope, and happiness.

The lesson?

Talk to your people about your goals on terms that they can relate to so that they feel it.  Paint a picture, so to speak, of what their future will be like when these goals are obtained.  If they can buy in to your vision, then they can buy into what you want them to do.

Find out more about “The Far-sighted Leader” by Erika Andersen at Forbes.

For a look at sharing your vision with your customers, see “Purpose is Good.   Shared Purpose is Better” by Mark Bonchek at the Harvard Business Review.

[i] Andersen, Erika (2012-09-21). Leading So People Will Follow (p. 23). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.


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