Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Passion and vision

As I travel around the CHRISTUS system, and often when I present to other organizations, two questions that I often receive are: 1) how do you become a visionary, and 2) how do you create passion in an organization?

Although the answers to these questions must be filled with artful thinking rather than scientific approaches, they have been asked so frequently that I recently forced myself to reflect on a more meaningful articulation of the answers to give a better understanding of how you incorporate vision and passion into your professional competencies and therefore into the organization which you lead.

Let’s begin with vision. I think many people believe that visionaries are in some ways sprinkled with angel dust so that the future actually becomes real in their dreams. However, for me, vision must come from people who are embedded in the realities of today, having a clear understanding of how today works, so that their predictions for the future are made with this reality in mind (which hopefully will lend credibility to these predictions).

Footed in this clear understanding of today, a visionary then takes the time to look back and ask the question, “What changed from the past, what caused these changes, and hence, what are the results of these changes that made the present look like it is today?”

This knowledge, then, is helpful in determining the similar causal events that will change today to create a predictable future. An example of “visionary thinking” is my belief that numerous diseases will be cured in the next 10 years, and some new diseases will be introduced. I say this because I have watched tuberculosis, polio and nine types of childhood leukemia--which were prevalent 25 years ago--be cured. The causes for these miraculous events were the focus on understanding the infrastructure of medications and how they worked at the cellular level. This knowledge has been magnified at least a million-fold in these 25 years, which guarantees for me that we will more rapidly eradicate present diseases in the future. I am predicting that more childhood leukemias and adult cancers will be cured, and that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease may in fact be so well controlled that they can be managed much more easily at home or in outpatient settings.

And yes, there will be some new diseases identified. Why do I believe this? When I look back on my 40 years of travel, I can recall that AIDS was not a recognized as a disease for the first 32 years, and Fifth disease, a viral self-limiting disease in children, was never listed in the pediatric text book which was my bible in med school for child care. Today, however, we are all familiar with the prevalence of AIDS, and studies show that 40 to 60 percent of adults worldwide have laboratory evidence of a past infection of Fifth disease.

So what diseases might be identified in the future? I would definitely expect some in the area of infectious disease, and perhaps several new types of cancer that will appear in the very elderly, as we are seeing people living 100 years or more who will have at least 30 years more exposure to environmental contaminants than previous generations.

In addition to understanding the reality of today and the ability to look back and use the past as a barometer of the future, true visionaries who are creating believable and worthwhile visions also are constantly monitoring environmental, social, political and technological trends based on current data. There are an array of articles and organizations that can provide this information, and a true visionary devotes sufficient time to incorporate the learnings from these trends into their predictive processes.

And at the end of the day, I would also have to admit that if you are comfortable as a visionary, you will take some educated guesses and, occasionally, make a prediction which is less sound (but still possible), with the intent of socking your audience so their ears will always be attentive.

Although we have many futurists and visionaries speaking on the national circuit today, my concern is that many of them are not working in health care or have not worked in health care, and hence their predictions of the future are not based on their clear understanding of today and their ability to look back and use their past experience as a strong predictor of the future. The absence of these two competencies gives me less confidence in the visions that they are seeing.

With regard to passion, I consider it the ability to believe in the vision you have created and sign people up to follow you toward this vision. For me, passionate people who are able to create passion in others are—first and foremost—fully knowledgeable regarding the content of the subject they are delivering. They are able to “connect the dots” between everything they have done in the past, are presently doing and planning to do in the future. They are able to provide believable rationale for what they are doing, and they are able to create soundness in their vision by driving it via the pieces that I outlined above.

Clearly the second competency of creating passion is a passionate style of delivery. And although this will vary from person to person and is best done by delivering charismatic, engaging and rapidly-moving speeches on stage, there are many people who are passionate but are uncomfortable with this type of delivery. The common characteristic of a passionate style is delivering your thoughts in such a way that people truly believe that you mean it and somehow feel the passion exuding from every pore in your body. Consistency of presentation, whether it be the hand-waving type or with quiet style, is a key ingredient, because the one thing that causes people to question passion is inconsistency in leadership performance.

And this leads to the final ingredient: people will only believe that you are passionate if you are credible, which in today’s world means that you “walk the talk”: do what you say you are going to do, do it in the timeline to which you have committed and hold yourself accountable to the goals you have set.

If you are to be a visionary and passionate leader, you must work at developing these competencies, devote the time necessary to studying and dreaming about the future, and people must see a halo of vision and passion over your head when they see you coming.

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