March 19, 2020 | Originally published January 16, 2018
There are times when wandering aimlessly is exactly what you want to be doing. For example, if you are on vacation and don’t have a set schedule, you could be happy as a clam wandering aimlessly through a beach town looking in different shops along the way. But when wandering aimlessly happens in the workplace because your boss doesn’t provide the vision, unhappy campers are usually the result. Without vision or direction from your leadership, you end up feeling confused, disengaged, and dissatisfied.
You want to contribute in a meaningful way and keep your team focused on what’s most important. In order to do that, you depend on your boss to help you see the destination. With a little creativity and initiative, you can stop wondering which direction to go and start setting your sight on the target ahead.
Here are some choices to consider when your boss doesn’t provide vision:
1. Help your boss develop the vision.
If you are aware enough to realize that you and your team are vision-starved, and confused about the direction of the organization, being a visionary might just be a strength of yours. You can utilize this strength and help everyone involved, by “trickling vision up.” This starts with taking the time to sculpt a vision for the group as if you were in charge.
Once this “sculpted vision” is clear in your mind, get ready to share it with your supervisor. During a portion of your regular monthly or weekly 1-to-1 meetings, humbly offer one suggestion from the vision that you believe would help steer the team on accomplishing the mission. Ask what he/she thinks, gauge the response, and if positively received, ask how together it might be implemented. The goal here is that your leader will own the vision to the point it becomes their idea. You are doing your best to make them look good so that it’s a win-win for all.
2. Craft/cast/carry your own vision with your team/department.
If your boss turns into Teflon when the topic of vision comes up, you still can make a difference right where you are–without usurping their authority. Understand what you can control and focus on that, instead of the frustration that comes from the lack of clarity from above you. It’s like you are running your own little company, using the best leadership principles you’ve learned, but always making sure you are ultimately aligned with your boss’s and the organization’s main direction–as best as you can see it.
Show confidence to your people by making decisions within your purview, removing obstacles, and giving the team as much security as you can–without bashing your leadership for not truly leading.
There may come a time when you simply cannot handle yet another year of operating without a clear, compelling vision from your boss. You know it when it begins to suck the life out of you. Your ideas fall on deaf ears, you get blamed for their incompetence, you tire of apologizing on their behalf, and you realize that plugging holes in the dam is not the way you want to live your work life anymore. (Read: 6 Reasons to Evaluate When Considering Moving On)
I have left jobs whenever I realized I could not impact or influence the “power structure” of the organization from my position in the organizational chart. To avoid “learned helplessness” or portraying an unsupportive attitude to my people, and after sharing my need for vision to my leader several times with no results, I have resigned and set my sights on another position with a clear vision that I can rally behind.
We all need direction. It gives our work purpose and allows us to know that we are contributing in meaningful ways. But you cannot stay aimless for too long without it affecting you negatively. You DO have choices, even in situations without direction. Step up or step out. Make the best of your situation or find a place where you can.
Need an objective someone to bounce off the processing of your decision, with full confidentiality? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org