Shadows on the Teche is a restored great house near New Iberia, Louisiana. The National Trust for Historic Preservation owns the property now and has renovated the home and grounds with scrupulous attention to detail. I assure you there is a point to this.
About midway through my career I was working as a consultant for a west coast charity. Hired to coordinate seminars in Latin America and conferences in the US, I was soon approached by the organization’s director. He asked if I would step into his shoes and assume the role of director, telling me he wanted to retire.
This seemed sudden to me. I hardly knew the man although I had followed him from afar (he turned out to be nothing like his reputation L). But to be asked to step into the top spot so soon made me suspicious. I put off answering the request so I could learn more about the organization, what was required as director, and just where the present director believed the organization should be heading.
A few weeks later I found myself in southern Louisiana and able to enjoy a free day off work to see the local sites. My host took me to Shadows on the Teche. As the tour ascended to the second floor, I began to consider the job recently offered to me. Here I was in the middle of a magnificently restored and maintained home first built in 1834 and kept in the state it was back then. I then realized that the organization I was considering leading was just such an organization. Its Director and its Board of Directors were very proud of its history and were dedicated to maintaining the vision, nature, processes, intentions, and emphasis that had provoked its founding and provided the work that it did.
The Shadows on the Teche were in the hands of very capable curators. My job offer was essentially the same position, that of curator of an organization with a proud and long history.
But I turned down the offer. Why? Because being a curator is not my cup of tea. If you checked out that organization today, you will find that it is indeed focused on the past and on maintaining the vision of the organization as it was back when it was founded. I would have been a bad fit, a poor match for those particular job requirements of the vision.
The alternative is that of innovator, one who introduces new things and makes changes in established systems. In the accompanying diagram, the objective for all leaders is the realization and fulfillment of the vision.
Now much can be said about the potential for losing relevance with a fixation on the past and there are organizations that are gone now for that very reason, Blockbusters being a good example. But, Shadows on the Teche has such a focus and it is entirely appropriate.
The vision for the organization you lead or would consider leading needs your serious consideration because it must be a match to your temperament, personality, value system, and sense of self-identity and self-worth.
Either a forward or a backward focus can be valid. And either can be invalid. Qualifying the vision is not so simple. In commerce, forward thinking and forward focused organizations tend to survive while backward focused ones do not. Backward focused organizations tend to prefer the comfort and reassurance brought on by proven systems and familiar territory. Kodak was making great progress and held most of the patents for digital imaging when a consultant convinced them to return to their core business of print photography, a blunder of biblical proportions.
Indeed, vision needs to be analyzed and understood in its essence. Kodak’s business was, and should always have been, capturing images. Print on paper was one expression of that but certainly not the only one.
The question you have to answer it what vision is the best fit for you, your temperament, and your sense of self-worth. In the end, you will look back on your years in pursuit of that vision with either satisfaction or regret.