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Is your Vision Big Enough?

Chip and Dan Heath tell a great story in their book Switch about the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) CEO who had a company pizza party to announce to a fledgling non-profit that they were going to save 100,000 lives in five years. Five years later, IHI grew into one of the most effective, innovative, and efficient organizations in the world saving almost 125,000 lives. How did they celebrate it? You guessed it...with a pizza party.

Big, bold visions are often rooted in what Jim Collins calls, BHAGs, Big Hairy Audacious Goals. One of the main jobs of any wayfinder is to set a vision and/or a big goal that drives and moves others around them to make the improbable possible. Throughout my career I’ve been blessed to be around amazing leaders. One of my key mentors in my personal and professional life is Terry Holliday, former Commissioner of Education in Kentucky and my former superintendent in the Iredell-Statesville School District, a bedroom community just outside of Charlotte, NC. When I arrived in the district as the nation’s first Chief Quality Officer in 2005, Terry told me he had a vision to be a top ten school district in North Carolina. He also made sure his staff and team knew of that vision as they were ranked 57th across multiple metrics when he arrived three years earlier. He now had them in the top 20, and he was using the Baldrige Criteria and framework to meet his goals.

While several of his cabinet members including me had our doctorates, he had each of us pursue a Baldrige Examiner distinction and spend a year with Baldrige trainers on what creating world-class organizations meant. After many years of pursuit, our team won the national Baldrige award for the top school district in the nation because we lived continuous improvement towards that vision every week. Terry would often ask for the numbers and then ask us where things were going well or what gaps we were solving for to get to top 10. The same year we won the award, we also cracked the top 10 in North Carolina. Hear more from Terry’s speech in this video on what it took to do that work and realize the bold vision and his BHAGs.

Many of Terry’s comments draw on the truths, tools, and triumphs leaders need to find their way. When I first read the book Switch by the Heath brothers, I was not just impressed by the IHI vision I mentioned earlier, I also recognized the IHI tools. Terry made sure we knew how the medical profession aligned with education, and we learned about and used IHI tools like PDSA, Plus/Delta, Consensograms, and Driver Diagrams in our work. Wayfinders emulate wayfinders. It is one of the ways they learn about compelling visions and learn to set their own to mobilize people to care, feel, and act on what they value most.



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