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The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership: PILLAR I (Visioning)

By Michael E. Rock, Ed.D. |


PILLAR I: Visioning
"Doing More With More, Unleashing a Future"
(Part 1 of 7)

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

- Jesus of Nazareth

To them self-worth is net-worth. Theirs is the currency of the fast deal. They know nothing is inherited that only their abilities make the difference. They have adventures instead of vacations, drink Evian instead of scotch, would rather drive a Hummer than a Rolls Royce and prize survival over loyalty. They worship efficiency, and luxury is their addiction of choice. Gregarious, ambitious and tough, they are also suavely international. They have assumed the power of the church in the middle ages, and know there is only one timetable for success start today or else.

Wanna be one?
Wanna see one?1

One day, when the monk is absorbed into the life of culture, theology will also have been restored and revisioned. It will be a rich study of religions and nonreligions, philosophies and poetries, fictions and musics, beliefs and unbeliefs.

In my daydreams this new theology takes her place alongside the arts and sciences, and her objects of study include culture's diet of ritual, prayer, icon, ceremony, architecture, holy reckoning of time, illness, death, birth, marriage, yearning, melancholy, meaning, lack of meaning, history, ancestors, values, morality, atonement, and initiation. One day, instead of going to a therapist, troubled or searching people will pay a call on their theologian to consider the mysteries that have befallen them2.

The history of humankind is a history filled with people who lived their dreams and with people who failed to live their dreams. We become that which we love and we become that which we hate. The vision (and dream) is ours. We live out that vision and dream each and every moment of each and every day. We become our vision; we become our dream. The hand of destiny moves on inexorably. We have, as Dr. Carl Jung said, a particular task in life to complete. To fail that task is to fail life. That task is our myth, or, in the late Joseph Campbell's sense, our "bliss." Blessed is the person who knows his/her own myth. Sometimes we may have to live our whole life to find out what our myth is. Sometimes the insight happens in an instance, as it did for Paul of Tarsus almost 2,000 years ago. He saw a vision, and he then acted on what he saw.

We cannot but en-vision. Living is visioning. We put into life what we envision. What we see inside we live outside. As within, so without. To change the vision, we have to go within. All true change, therefore, happens inside out. When we change the vision, we change ourselves, because we are the vision.

Our vision is the field; hence, we have "a field of vision." Our values structure the vision. To find out more about your personal vision, answer the following sentence:

The purpose of my life is

Your purpose is embedded in the very marrow of your bones. You live it, breathe it, sleep with it. Your purpose brings meaning to your life. Being without a purpose is like being without a life. Sometimes we hear people say, "Get a life!" What they mean is, "Have a purpose to what you are living." They could easily have asked, "What is your vision?"


Let Me 'Bug' You For a Moment

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing the movie "A Bug's Life." I kept thinking to myself, "This is a leadership movie!" The character, Flick, an ant, is the one who has a different vision from all the others in the ant colony. Of course, as it is so often in business, Flick is the one who is 'thinking out of the box.'3 He's the Don Quixote of the boardroom! He's one who has the vision, rather, is the vision to transform the colony. Without Flick, the colony is condemned to monotony and always doing things "the way we've always done things." Flick is counter-routine. He is skunkworks personified. He lives on the 'edge' literally. He is also the creative one. He's the one with imagination.

He's also the one who gets booted out of the colony because one of his many ideas didn't work. But he is also the one who saves and liberates the colony because he never leaves his vision. His success is directly linked to his high EQ: his emotional intelligence smarts. He is adaptable, flexible. He perseveres under incredible odds. He believes against all the odds against him. And he wins.

The line in the movie that stuck out the most for me was when Hopper, the mean head grasshopper, says to his subordinates, "Ideas are dangerous." He was certainly correct on this account.

Ideas are dangerous, especially to those who want to maintain the status quo, who want to lead through fear and power. Hopper says this to his troops because he recognizes that if the ant colony realized or, in our terms, had the vision or idea that alone they were defenceless, but united they could overpower the grasshoppers, then he would not be a leader after all. What was blocking the ants from assuming their rightful sense of leadership was their lack of this vision. It took a crisis to initiate a change in their thinking, and Flick, the banished one who never gave up, returned and empowered them.

The Prairie Chicken4

An American Indian legend tells about a brave who found an eagle's egg and put it into the nest of a prairie chicken. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.

All his life the changeling eagle, thinking he was a prairie chicken, did what the prairie chickens did. He scratched in the dirt for seeds and insects to eat. He clucked and cackled. And he flew for a brief thrashing of wings and flurry of feathers no more than a few feet off the ground. After all, that's how prairie chickens were supposed to fly.

Years passed and the changeling eagle grew very old. One day, he saw a magnificent bird far above him in the cloudless sky. Hanging with graceful majesty on the powerful wind currents, it soared with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings. "What a beautiful bird!" said the changeling eagle to his neighbour. "What is it?" he asked. "That's an eagle, the chief of the birds," the neighbours clucked. "But don't give it a second thought. You could never be like them.

So the changeling eagle never gave it another thought. And it died thinking it was a prairie chicken.

The Business Case

While "vision" is a very "soft" issue, it is also the hardest. No less an authority than Dr. Margaret Wheatley, who writes on quantum theory and leadership issues, says, "Power in organizations is the capacity generated by relationships."5 That's a vision. It's a new vision, and like new wine, cannot be "poured into old wineskins."6 That's why organizations with "old visions" often have to die off, collapse of their own "deadness."

To know if your organization has a generative vision, one that brings people alive, answer the following statement:

In my organization, the main emphasis is on the quality of relationships, how they are organized, and the energy flow between and among people. YES NO

If you answered "yes," you're on the right track. Until the advent of Einstein and quantum theory, the Newtonian mindset ruled much of the world's thinking for the past few hundred years. In Newton's world, "space" is empty; hence, loneliness pervaded the human condition. Vision has a consequence. To get through space, therefore, demanded a sufficient surge of power; hence, exhaustion pervaded the human condition as well.

In quantum theory, however, space is not empty. Instead, there are invisible "fields" which structure the universe and are known through their effects. In quantum theory, space is a very busy, bustling cornucopia of energies made up of these fields. Dr. Wheatley asks us to think of the universe as an ocean where interpenetrating influences and invisible structures connect everything to everything else.

When we apply quantum field theory images to organizations and employees, a whole new perception and vision of who we are and how we interact comes to the surface. We begin to realize that invisible, yet real, images and visions influence everything we do. For those who say they don't believe in "that soft stuff," they haven't read quantum theory very carefully, if at all. If you ask one of these "bottom line" managers, "Do you think there is something called cyberspace," he/she will, of course, answer "yes." But, stop for a moment: Where is cyberspace? Where is the Internet really located? None of us can answer that question, but we know it exists. We live and partake in an invisible reality!

Case example #1:7

Joan Kenley and her modulated voice commands, for instance, "reside" in the Meridian voice-mail system marketed by Canada's Nortel Networks. "It's like talking to the ghost in the machine." In listening to her voice, all any caller has is a "mental image" and her "mellifluous tone." Her voice-mail character "is the result of finding a kind of emotional and tonal zen."

Case example #2:8

The "invisible" reality of what I would call "mindshare" is clearly evident at Sheridan Nurseries Ltd., of Oakville, Ontario. It is now investing in its employees. Employees are trained in the "TLC" -- "Think Like a Customer" -- program.

Case example #3:9

Duocom Canada Inc., of Toronto, matches their video data projection equipment and services with companies and their need for conferences. Their vision of their business? "A meeting of minds."

Case example #4:10

At Insystems Technologies Inc., of Markham, Ontario, CEO Michael Egan says, "We've got what I call a BHA -- a big, hairy, audacious dream. ... We started to grow organically. [It's] the ability of our staff to understand our entire business. ... First I had an idea, then I had the vision and built a business plan around that vision. Then all I needed was the people."

Case example #5:11

The Financial Post, in summarizing the 50 best companies for 1998, remarks: "One of the hardest things about being selected as one of the 50 best managed companies in Canada is to live up to the billing. Some companies have made the list for a second time. The secret of their repeat performance lies in a host of intangibles."

The fields that "fill up" our organizational spaces are "constructed" by the visions and messages of managers and employees working in the organization. Vision gives purpose and direction to an organization. If we think of vision in a linear fashion, says Dr. Wheatley, or in a Newtonian mechanized construct as we have often done we will believe the following:

The Newtonian mechanized leader: This person "gives" us the vision. Our job as employees is to "flesh it out" and arrive at the vision's "anticipated destination mark." Doing that makes us successful. Sometimes fear is necessary to get everyone to "see" the destination; other times, incentives do the "trick."

Hence, the carrot and the stick metaphor has a long tradition in management literature. In the Introduction to this The 7 Pillars series,12 I used the following quote by Major-General Michael Williams, a U.S. Marine Corp. commander from Quantico, Va., "Leadership is the art of having people do what you want them to do and go in a direction that you set, willingly or unwillingly. Willingly is leadership. Unwillingly is coercion."13 This Newtonian leadership model has often been seen as successful. A "good" leader is one who takes all the "pieces" of the organization and "puts them into shape." That's a tough job; hence, exhaustion, burnout, stress and death 4-7 years after retirement have been the norm! Insurance companies became quite clear about their policies because they could predict the demise of their clients so easily!

But with quantum theory and a field theory of vision, we can begin to imagine an invisible geometry of fields filling organizational space. Fields can be very powerful, as we know from the intensity and pervasiveness of corporate culture an invisible, yet powerful, force influencing behaviour and organizational outcomes.14 Hopper, the lead and mean grasshopper in "A Bug's Life" was correct: "Ideas are dangerous!" Robert Hass, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., says that "conceptual controls" are what matter: "It's the ideas of a business that are controlling, not some manager with authority."15

By shifting from the linear model of vision to a quantum theory perspective, as some companies and organizations are now doing we begin to believe the following:

The field theory visionary leader: This person "creates and nourishes the context" for vision to flourish. The "conceptron" becomes the liberating energy package of life. The visionary leader not only believes that vision and values inform the organization, but also, that vision and values and ideas must be disseminated throughout the organization. The visionary leader creates a conceptual network of thinking and feeling and communicating the vision. There is no such "thing" as a "vision statement." Rather, "visioning" is everywhere, just as the field is. The visionary leader is one who creates and nourishes the context for everyone not just executives or managers to be "field creators" through ongoing conversations of employee fields continuously interacting and filling organizational space. Since space is never "empty," visionary leaders know intuitively and concretely that organizational space needs to be filled up with coherent and sincere vision. Authentic vision, integrity, and ROIR Return-on-Integrity/Investment-in-Relationships, become the new "life blood" of this visionary organization.

The Book of Proverbs states, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."16 We now know from quantum theory why this so: If we do not participate genuinely and authentically is creating fields of endeavour and of enterprise, we will be at the mercy of the invisible forces surrounding us and experience the dissonance of broken living. We can only tolerate this kind of existential dissonance for so long before something snaps. In a world that is now given so many concrete answers to questions of the spirit, is it any wonder that suicides, alcoholism, despair and ennui pervade our culture.

Spiritual questions of hope, of vision, of meaning and purpose demand spiritual pathways and fields. Ironically, modern quantum physics gives the modern spiritual doubter a spiritual answer: field theory constructs, or "invisibles," or "intangibles." Theology has spoken of this mysticism of the universe for thousands of years. Science is now discovering what we have known all along in our hearts.

The Business Question

Question: Will business "buy" this?

Answer: What other choice have they got?

The new organizational wine cannot be poured into old organizational metaphors and constructs. When it tries to do that, it creates what psychologist Marti Smye calls the 3 Fs: fear, frustration, fatigue17. The statistics on what these 3 Fs cost the organization and the economy are simply overwhelming, not only in terms of lost money and opportunities, but especially in broken lives. There has to be a better way.

In the chapter on "Visioning," The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership book describes this time as one of "dead reckoning." In a reductionist vision, control is everything. Hence, short-term thinking and "quarterly results" mean everything. "Making the numbers" becomes the altar of sacrifice. And what a sacrifice it is and has been. In 1994 in Canada, $300-million was spent just on prescriptions for depression for employees!18 In 1995, workplace accidents due to workplace change was estimated to be now costing Canadians $10-billion annually!19

For me personally, the most devastating injury to ourselves and our nation in the 1990s has been our myopic vision around what constitutes work. The national vision has mistakenly equated a job as being the same thing as work. They are not the same. A job is an industrial metaphor and construct that shaped the manufacturing plant and, by extension, today's workplaces. It was a "box" of duties and responsibilities that employees "had" and were required to "perform." As you can see, it fits perfectly with the Newtonian quantitative mindset. But work is an expression of who we are. In the Middle Ages, the great theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote: "To live well is to work well, or display a good activity."20 He also said that "despair is the most dangerous of sins," for when despair takes over "all kinds of wickedness follow."21 We are seeing a lot of that now in the tremendous social and economic costs, as well as the lost opportunities for people to belong to the human project of living a worthy life. The "top line" does matter for it is more inclusive than a "bottom line" with its number crunching mentalities. The top line includes vision, right brain (intuition) and left brain (analysis); but, most important, it provides hope and asks people and employees to live out their vocation to be the best they can be. We can make new choices with new visions. We can "do more with more" and truly unleash a future worth going to.

If the Newtonian mindset and vision "divided us up," the new quantum mindset and vision reconnects us, to one another and to the world around us. Our real crisis will be if we do not have what it takes to be connected effectively: through communication, love and compassion. At a time when the world is "going global," many individual countries and territories (witness Québec) are disconnecting! I believe it is not coincidence that the topics of (a) spirituality in the workplace and (b) emotional intelligence loom so large in society today. We are all looking for meaning and heart. The basics.

Is There A Business Payoff?

Although there are numerous case examples available today of organizations who aim for the top line and have very robust profits, one of the most remarkable studies to highlight what The 7 Pillars describes as ROIR (Return-on-Integrity/Investment-in-Relationship) was done at Michigan State University and the Department of Management and Organizations at the University of Iowa. Researchers compared the top 1%, or high performers, with average employees and with the bottom 1%, or low performers, on three job categories: low complexity jobs (e.g., frontline workers in a fast-food restaurant), medium complexity jobs (e.g., production workers in a high-tech factory), and high complexity jobs (e.g., an associate in an investment bank). The research results?

The top 1% of performers outperformed average performers in the same category (low, medium, high) by 52%, 85%, even 127%! Comparing the top 1% with the bottom 1% ("the slackers" or, as one senior vice-president told us, people who have quit but haven't left the company) indicated 300% more productivity on the part of those at the top in low-complexity jobs, 1,200% more productivity in medium-complexity work, and the-sky's-the limit productivity with the top 1% who have high-complexity jobs.22

The Need for Good Work

We need to reinvent work. We need a new vision. The following story, for me, is the best illustration of this need.

To Work or Not to Work!
That Is the Question!23

There is a wonderful story about a man who woke up one day and found himself in a place where all his needs were met. He didn't lack for anything. He had all the right food, the great creature comforts of life. Anything he wanted he could have. All went well with him until one day he realized there was something more he wanted. He wanted to do something besides just taking in so much all the time. He was bored being waited upon and being served.

Finally, one day when he was really fed up, he called to the head waiter and said, "I am bored. You are very gracious to me here. I have everything I want. I lack for nothing. But I am still bored. I want to do something. I want to work, to feel that I too can contribute something." The waiter replied, "But, sir, we can do everything for you, but we cannot fix it so you can work. That's the way things are around here. You have to be satisfied with having the best of everything and being waited upon day and night and not wanting or craving anything, except your desire to work."

The man became still, his face fell, and he despaired. "I appreciate everything you're doing for me here, but if I can't contribute by working too, not just being served all the time, that'll just be hell for me."

"But, sir," said the waiter, "you are in hell."


Tom Cochrane, the Canadian singer/songwriter who's sold millions of records and won countless awards, is a veteran of the Canadian rock 'n' roll campaigns of the 1980s and '90s. He toured relentlessly for the best part of 20 years, and earned the kudos of critics around the world. Perhaps he speaks for all of us when he says, from his home in Oakville, Ontario, that success is "being able to make a living, supporting your family by doing what you love ... avoid[ing] cynicism, ... be[ing] patient. Impatience can make you desperate, and desperation forces compromise. If you compromise your integrity, you've lost it all."24 Professor Stephen Ralls, director of the opera division at the University of Toronto's faculty of music, says, "The touchstones of a successful career in opera are self-confidence, the concrete possession of a good voice, stamina, the ability to withstand rejection and failure, the conviction to make your career work, and the ability to get on with people."24

Should it be any different with our vision for doing business?

Finally, I believe also that when we experience laughter again in our lives and in our workplaces, we will have left behind the intellectual fascism of political correctness. We will have allowed joy and surprise back into our lives and workplaces. Dr. Wheatley remarks, "Were we to become truly good scientists of our craft, we would seek out surprises, relishing the unpredictable when it finally decided to reveal itself to us. Surprise is the only route to discovery, the only path we can take if we're to search out the important principles that can govern our work."25

When the day arrives, as surely it must, when we become those "good scientists of our craft," we will have the new wineskins for our new vision. We will then, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, once remarked, discover fire for the second time.26

For a summary of The 7 Pillars, go to Harcourt Brace & Company Canada's Website: or call 1-800 387-7278.

The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership: Introduction

PILLAR I: Visioning

PILLAR II: Mapping

PILLAR III: Journeying

PILLAR IV: Learning

PILLAR V: Mentoring

PILLAR VI: Leading



  1. From a Chapters Bookstore advertising leaflet inside Peter C. Newman's new book Titans: How the New Canadian Establishment Seized Power. Toronto: Viking Penguin Group), 1998.

  2. Thomas Moore. Meditations. On the Monk Who Dwells in Daily Life. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1994, 41, 43.

  3. For an interesting summary of some “rules” for thinking outside the box, see Eric Gilboord, "Push Yourself 'Outside the Box'," The Globe and Mail, Tuesday, December 29, 1998, B7.

  4. Michael E. Rock. The Dynamics of Supervision. Toronto: Dryden, 1994, 149.

  5. Margaret J. Wheatley. Leadership and the New Science. Learning About Organization from an Orderly Universe. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 1994, 38-39.

  6. Matt. 9:17; Mark, 2:22.

  7. David Akin, "The Reigning Queen of Voice Mail," National Post, Monday, December 28, 1998, C1.

  8. "Harvest Time," National Post, Monday, December 28, 1998, C12.

  9. Duocom, Suppliers: A Meeting of Minds," National Post, Monday, December 28, 1998, C13.

  10. "A Softer Set of Skills," National Post, Monday, December 28, 1998, C14.

  11. "The 50 Best," National Post, Monday, December 28, 1998, C15. Bold added.

  12. Located at CanadaOne

  13. Donna Korchinski, "Marines Whip Managers Into Shape," The Globe and Mail, Friday, July 17, 1998, B21.

  14. The emphasis and power of corporate culture is very evident at clothier Harry Rosen Inc. One of the company's key mandates is lifelong relationship with its associates, or sales people. "Beginning with an 18-month initial training program, associates are immersed in a corporate culture that's totally committed to relationships -- between the company and employees, employees and customers, and the company and suppliers. Incentives and rewards favour a team approach." Bob Humphrey, chairman and CEO said,"I used to think our business was 50% merchandise and 50% people. But as I get older and wiser, I've come to realize our business is 100% people." In "Fashioning Growth," National Post, Monday, December 28, 1998, C16.

  15. Howard, Robert, "Value Make the Company: An Interview with Robert Haas," Harvard Business Review, September-October 1990, 134.

  16. Proverbs 29:18.

  17. Margot Gibb-Clark, "Author Pens Worker's Runaway Guide," The Globe and Mail, Tuesday, December 22, 1998, B8.

  18. Chris Knight, "The High Cost of Depression," Canadian HR Reporter, Vol. 8, No. 8, April 24, 1995, 2.

  19. Susan Bourette, "Workplace Injuries Drop, But Costs Rise," The Globe and Mail, Thursday, April 25, 1996, A1, 2.

  20. Thomas Aquinas, Sum. theol. I-II, q. 57, a.5.

  21. Matthew Fox, "Reflections on a Spirituality of Work," Creation Spirituality, Vol. 8, No. 3, May/June 1992, 9-11.

  22. Slightly adapted from Michael Cox and Michael E. Rock. The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership: Aligning Your Organization for Enduring Success (w/CD). Toronto: Dryden (Harcourt Brace & Company, Canada), 1997, 11.

  23. Michael E. Rock. The Dynamics of Supervision. Toronto: Dryden, 1994, 367. The idea for the tale came from Rick Fields, Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler and Rick Ingrasci. Chop Wood, Carry Water. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1984, 105.

  24. Greg Quill, "The Love of Applause," The Toronto Star, Sunday, December 27, 1998, D18.

  25. Margaret J. Wheatley, op. cit., 142.

  26. "Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energy of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire." - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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