vision and conflict

For Christianity, true community means the freedom of people and groups to be different, not just to be functions of a fixed consensus, yet at the same time it totally refuses indifference; a peaceful, united secure community implies absolute consensus, and yet, where difference is acknowledged, this is no agreement in an idea, or something once and for all achieved, but a consensus that is only in and through the inter-relations of community itself, and a consensus that moves and ‘changes’: a concentus musicus.
(John Milbank, ‘Post-modern Critical Augustinianism’)

From my (limited) experience this is something leaders often struggle with. On the one hand, we’re all about consensus. That’s what we want to generate — not imposing our wills or coercing allegiance (that’s tyranny not leadership) but getting people on board, ‘casting vision’. On the other hand, getting explicit about vision can have the opposite effect. Actually sparking conflict.

Blue Helmets

Blue Helmets by riacale, on Flickr

Vision casting sparks conflict because by nailing your colours to the mast — saying ‘This is (or should be) our priority’ — you let people see where the proposed direction may not match their own priorities.

This doesn’t always happen immediately of course. It’s galvanising to be involved in something with a clear sense of purpose. Like jumping aboard a moving train. You’re going somewhere!

But things’ll change as time passes. And it’s more than a case of vision ‘leaking’. A vision that fosters ownership and growing maturity (my idea of a good vision) is already sowing the seeds of its own destruction. Or its own modification at least.

For ownership moves people from being passive observers to becoming genuine stakeholders, personally invested in the direction and outcomes as well as the shape and feel of the project.

Good vision casting is prepared for this. Expects conflict to follow. And knows it can be constructive. If the leadership is trusted and clear channels of communication are maintained, getting explicit about vision opens up debate about the direction and texture of the project. And, managed well, the resulting ‘mobile consensus’ binds together more tightly and truly than a static one.

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