Without vision, there is no leadership

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In my last blog I discussed four crucial team leader behaviors:

  • Build an engaging vision
  • Cultivate psychological safety
  • Develop shared mental models
  • Empower agile execution

In this one, I am going to tackle building an engaging vision.  Without vision, there is no leadership.  I define leadership as declaring a future that others commit to achieve.  If you aren’t declaring a future, there is no leadership, and your leadership vision is that future.

When I think about this now, it seems obvious.  But, for many years I didn’t have an engaging leadership vision.  I had a goal I was given and that was good enough.  I would tell people we had to achieve it and expect them to do their best.  Occasionally, I did have an engaging vision we embraced.  Reflecting back on those times, I realize they were the most successful and fun teams I led or was a part of.

So what is a leadership vision?

I like part of Jim Collins description of a leadership vision.  Jim talks about two elements.  A ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ (BHAG) and a vivid description.  The BHAG term has become overused and tired in some companies.  If that is how you feel about it, let’s call it a stretch goal.  The goal is very important, it has to represent the future you wish to create and inspire your followers.  Here is an example from Intel’s past:

“Utilize the power of Moore’s Law to connect to and enrich the lives of everyone on earth”

This goal is definitely audacious.  It describes in broad terms what the future will be.  ‘Broad’ is important because it is for a variety of followers to see how they can be a part of it.  It is also inspiring, and for me it invokes a sense of care for my fellow inhabitants of earth.  The vivid description is a vibrant, engaging and specific description of what it will be like to achieve the BHAG or goal.  This is your opportunity to expand on the BHAG to evoke the readers emotions of what the future will be like.

Get creative

I hear one question a lot How do you come up with a leadership vision that is a breakthrough?  Not just an incremental improvement?  We can’t all be like Steve Jobs, but we can release the constraints we impose on own thinking.  Setting an audacious goal is great way to do this.  Think of something you don’t believe is possible and empower your group to ask, what will it take to get there.  Anything goes.  What would have to happen?  Doing this may help you and your team create that breakthrough.  Tina Seelig in her book inGenious describes an exercise her students undertake.  They have to come up with 100 ideas to solve a problem, and Tina notes the best ones don’t usually come up until way past the 50th item.  They also appear to be ridiculous at first.

We can also generate breakthrough thinking by changing our environment.  Get out of your office and visit somewhere completely different.  Preferably where your customers hang out.  I did this with one of my teams.  We visited the downtown mall and broke into teams to discover what made each of the stores in the mall unique.  It completely opened up our thinking.  Over dinner the team came up with an idea that cost $50K and to this day saves Intel at least $1M cash a year (and that was about 10 years ago).  There are many other ways you can spark your team’s creativity by challenging your status quo.

Keep your leadership vision alive

Once you have your leadership vision, do not check the box and consider it done.  Your leadership vision is a living breathing thing.  Keep challenging it.  Be aware of how the environment around you is changing.  Is your vision is still relevant and audacious?  Intel changed it’s vision because the future described had largely become true.

If you wish to go deeper on this topic, I have created a supporting guide.  It describes more ways to create breakthrough visions, and some tests and examples to assess if you are on track.  You can download it at the link below.  Enjoy!

Comments (2)

I like your post Andy. Keep it going. Thank you.

Thank you Kheng Huat!

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