Dr. Tanvi Gautam
Past perfect tense
I recall that evening quite vividly. I was at the end of the first year of my PhD program at the Katz Graduate School of Business. My father, also an academic and a strong role model for me, was visiting all the way from India.
While at dinner, he very casually asked me something that I will never forget.
He wanted to know what I envisioned was my future. Did I want to be a Dean or Vice-chancellor or something else? I almost choked on my food.
I had not even finished my course work, and here he was asking me about deanship!
At first I laughed at the question, but when I saw the serious look on his face, I knew he was not making small talk. He went on to elaborate how keeping that vision in mind would allow me to plot my trajectory, choose assignments, know which relationships I needed to establish now and what I had to prove in the next decade to be seen fit for a role that lay maybe two decades away.
But it was not the tactical aspects of that conversation that impacted me as much as what I experienced as I opened my mind for the first time to the possibility of Dr. Tanvi Gautam, Dean, Graduate School of Business…….I felt my energy shift.
The possibility. The potential. The promise. Of a future so grand that it seemed unreal.
A conversation so full of trust, realism and faith that you could not help but engage.
Many years later as I work with companies, I often wonder why most don’t feel energy around the vision they created. Why does the idea of the future never becomes an identity for them? Why does vision feel devoid of meaning? It is no surprise that some ask whether vision is relevant today.
My insight on the topic is based on the corporate storytelling work I do on transformational leaderships as well as storytelling for influence and engagement. You see, in storytelling, as noted by Aristotle, there must be logos (logic), ethos (ethics, credibility, values) and pathos (emotions).
Most visioning and vision statements miss the pathos element. If I got a dollar each time I heard about a company’s vision of becoming the employer of choice or being a talent magnet, I could retire tomorrow. These statements, thrown around everyday in the name of vision, are logical, credible, values-driven, but they lack emotional connection.
Last month I was working with a client whose people are highly data-driven. One might even say too data-driven. Ask them about the vision, and you were likely to get figures of ROI, market share, and other statistical facts and figures that leave you cold. Could this vision inspire the people who were crunching the numbers let alone the rest of the company?
So we undertook an activity to vision a future with no excel sheet! We created a giant board to act as the cover story of Time magazine, and we took a picture of the group, enlarged it and put it in the centre. We divided the page into cover story, feature article, quotes, sidebar and photos. The year was 2020. The task was to envision what would put them on Time magazine and why.
The shift in this left brain group as they created their stories had to be seen to be believed. The freedom to create a vision so grand that even the creators of it gasped as they created it led them to a new high. For the first time ever they were writing a story of their future. Their vision of possibility. Their ‘story’ of the future.
Not for a moment am I suggesting that we should ignore the strategic, tactical or operational. All I am suggesting is to give yourself the freedom to create a vision with which you have an emotional connection.
Future perfect tense
As someone said, it is not about what keeps you up at night, but what gets you going in the morning that matters.
What is the story that you will write about your future today that bears the energy and the emotion that will sustain action on days when nothing seems worth it?
And no, while I never did aspire to become Dean, I did recognize that the vision of my life had to be grander than what lay just in front of my nose. And as a result when most people ask why, I tend to ask why not? Because when you create a vision, anything is possible.
I hope that you will start writing your magnum opus story plot today, and may all your visions allow you to become larger than what you ever thought was possible.
Dr. Tanvi Gautam (Managing Partner, Global People Tree) helps organizations adopt innovative talent management practices. One of less than 100 Story Coaches worldwide, she uses this powerful medium to transformation organizational culture and leadership.
Recognized by the Business Manager magazine as one of the leading women HR professionals (2012), Dr. Gautam has been quoted and published in Harvard Business Review OnPoint, Forbes, Business Times, and Economic Times, among others. She serves on the board of ARTDO international (a Pan-Asian Leadership and HRD organization).