A Common Caring: The Critical Need for a Shared Vision

Abhishek Paul
6 min readDec 7, 2022

-Excerpts from The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

“Without a vision, the people perish.” — Proverbs 29:18

The quest to build organizations around people who can be counted on (in every sense of the word) rather than rigid, complex and at times nonsensical processes/ policies leads me down interesting paths. At times I tend to revisit old paths and find something new which is as interesting /valuable as seeing something for the first time. This is one of those times.

Vision statements have a bad reputation and goals are seen as too far removed to be relevant to an individual’s daily work, they are usually dusted out once a year when one’s appraisal is happening. I have seen too many folks for my comfort actually trying to find out what their goals are at the end of the year, trying hard to somehow connect them to the work already done (myself included). I can’t say I blame them (though it doesn’t absolve them of their responsibility) because vision statements do tend to be vague /generic while goals seem to be standards that one nervously keeps looking at. Neither of these tend to inspire or be particularly helpful in delivering consistent high performance either individually or more importantly as a team / organization.

But somewhere at the back of my head, the above quote from a wise man kept nagging me — truth be told, I don’t want to let it go. But I wanted to see if this could move the realm of self help/spiritual development to the everyday at work and that’s when the idea of “Shared Vision” from Peter Senge’s gold mine called “The Fifth Discipline” jumped out at me. What stood out this time was not some new/ insightful framework, rather the term he coined when talking about vision. The fact that he doesn’t focus on vision, but “shared vision” is a valuable change in perspective. But what spoke directly to the nagging voice in the back of my head was him calling shared vision as a “common caring”! This moved vision/goals from being an impersonal strategy to increase effectiveness to a powerful force that brings + keeps people together in the pursuit of objectives that really matter.

I haven’t heard anyone even remotely talk about vision/goals in these terms and most are dismissive of folks who care too much about it, seeing them as either idealistic or worse trying to manipulate people into doing something.

But Senge elevates the conversation while still being rooted firmly in the real world of generating revenue, increasing profitability and ensuring cash flow. Rather than defending his proposition he ever so gently counters the assumption that the critical objectives can be achieved without a “common caring” — how can someone continuously strive not only to do his very best but also ensure he helps the team deliver at the highest levels if they don’t care deeply about the work /outcome? The lens of common caring moves visions from a jumble of trendy jargons put together by the communication team (or) worse, by external consulting /marketing agencies to a force that compels people and teams to charge ahead.

The power though doesn’t come from the words though, but begins from providing the awareness that the organization has to clearly articulate a meaningful vision that is rooted in the organization’s context. But even this is insufficient. Each individual has to put in the hard work needed to introspect and come up with their own personal vision to make this work, else we are clapping with one hand. There are enough tools, techniques out there to do this.

We then need to find out how well this aligns with the company’s vision. Ideally this exercise should be done in selecting the organization to work in, but can also be done if one is already working somewhere. This also needs to be revisited and revised at least once a year.

A genuine common caring becomes a force that provides energy to deal with the routine of work, the gaps and challenges like:

  1. Provides energy to deal with the mundane/failures
  2. Changes relationships with the organization — “the/they” company to “my/we”
  3. Identify with task — work is an extension of self vs a “role to be played”
  4. Adaptive learning (doing the job well) vs Generative learning (expanding ability to create/innovate) — helps do more of the latter.
  5. Encourages innovation, risk taking (everything is an experiment but no ambiguity)
  6. Taking the rare / difficult option of committing to the long term rather than quick fixes/wins and “shifting the burden” to later/others

My “Wow” Moments

There were a couple of insights that I can’t let go. The first is the proposition that “In the absence of a great dream, pettiness prevails (ie politics, gossip, mediocre performance, etc). In the presence of greatness, pettiness disappears”. I find this so true — if I truly cared about something much bigger than myself and had the privilege of working with people who shared that caring, why would I notice or crib about the trivial or feel the need to indulge in gossip / office politics or compare designations / salaries? These things lose their significance (they hold no power or interest) and I don’t want to waste my time /energy on any of this.

The other thing that hit me hard was the question of my level of involvement be it the work /the team /organization. Senge shows 2 types of involvement, ie genuine compliance and being committed. The distinction hit a little too close to home for comfort.

Someone who is genuinely compliant is a “good soldier”, a high performer, one who takes initiative / is proactive, plays by “rules of the game”. Someone the team can depend on to go above and beyond to get the job done every time. He seems to be the ideal team player, even considered as the benchmark for most teams/orgs. But for all the positives he cannot bring the energy, passion and excitement of those committed. This is because the difference between committed and genuinely compliant is a qualitative one not quantitative, ie it’s about doing something different rather than doing more /better at what one is already doing.

Someone who is actually committed on the other hand feels fully responsible for making the vision happen and does whatever is needed to make it reality. He takes responsibility for the game, changing rules if they stand in the way. More importantly, a group of such people can accomplish the seemingly impossible. One of the key differentiators is “Accepting” the vision (for benefits it will bring) vs “Truly Wanting” the vision for itself.

The critical issue however is that a great majority in organizations are “compliant” but are often confused with being “enrolled/committed”. This is true of the individual (self assessment) and their managers assessment as well — a lot of high performing, well intentioned folks assume they are committed to the org when they are only genuinely compliant.

I now have a slightly better understanding about why vision matters and also why people are unable to see its critical importance, ie they lack a personal vision and expect the organization’s vision to inspire them and/or they are compliant folks operating under the assumption that they are committed.

This is a good space for all of us to introspect on:

a) What is my personal vision?

b) What is our shared vision?

c) And maybe the most difficult of the lot, How deep is my involvement? ie, am I truly committed or only compliant?

Maybe if we reflect honestly we will find new insights to create meaningful impact and also find personal happiness /satisfaction not just in our daily work but also our career over time.