Building a Vision for Leadership

” … the biggest difference between being a CEO today and one a generation or so back is the speed of change. We’re all on treadmills. You never ‘get there.’ You don’t get there anymore, because goals change and capabilities change so rapidly. You need a mind-set where you’re comfortable with this new kind of environment. Again, that’s a trait as good business owners become great CEOs and leaders. They’re very open and ready to accept change. As a result, they create a learning organization. We have to train, retrain and then do it over again.”

– Hans Becherer, Chairman & CEO, Deere & Company “Lessons from the Top: The Search for America’s Best Business Leaders”

Interrogating Reality

Leaders must be able to look unflinchingly at the realities of their organization, and of the marketplace. The status quo can never be “good enough.” There are always ways to do things better or smarter.

To “interrogate reality,” a leader should ask:

  • What values do we stand for? Are we being our word?
  • Is there a gap between the values we espouse and the way our business actually performs?
  • What skills and talents do we have? Are we hiring to our culture, core values?
  • Do these resources match the demands of the marketplace? If not, why?
  • What opportunities are available for us in the future?
  • Do we presently have the capacity to seize upon these opportunities?

In the “old days,” leaders were expected to come up with the answers themselves. Today, with peer-to-peer advisory groups small to mid size business owners, CEOs must continually pose the questions and rally their followers to provide the appropriate response.

Defining the Future

Leaders must think about the future; after all, they’re the ones guiding their businesses into unfamiliar, uncharted waters. If they don’t “define the future,” they will be obliged to fall back on past organizational precedents to deal with new situations.

The problem is, the dizzying pace of change in today’s world makes this approach virtually irrelevant.

“CEOs don’t necessarily come with a built-in vision of the company’s future,” says Vistage speaker Lee Thayer. “They start to develop one by asking themselves, ‘What is my dream? What difference do I want to make in the world?’ The process of articulating an answer leads to translating a vision for the entire organization.”

The vision has to be both feasible and far-reaching. If it doesn’t involve stretching a company’s resources and capabilities, it won’t be much of a vision. The business environment in the new millennium will likely generate fundamental changes in the marketplace; the leader’s vision must incorporate this possibility.

When formulating a vision, ask basic questions about its effect on the company’s primary stakeholders:

  • If the vision becomes a reality, how will it affect our customers?
  • For customers who are happy today, will this vision keep them that way?
  • For those who aren’t entirely happy today, will this make them happier?
  • For people who don’t buy from us now, will this attract them?
  • In a few years, will we do a better job than our competition of offering increasingly superior products and services that customers really need?

Vistage speaker Ben Gill urges CEOs to build a vision by expanding their intellectual horizons. “Get out of the office and explore the world around you,” he says. “Attend leadership seminars. Read cutting-edge books. Visit with other CEOs in organizations like Vistage.” And spend time with key customers: “Don’t become complacent, thinking you’re giving customers what they want. Find out what they’re waiting for someone to develop in the future.”

Clarity of Direction

Businesses thrive on a sense of purpose and direction. The leader’s job is to remind people why they’re working long hours and giving their best. Beyond that, the leader provides a clear direction for people to follow.

“The process either evolves with the executive team or starts when the CEO has an epiphany about the business and storms into the office looking for disciples,” says Vistage Chair and speaker Don Schmincke. “Leaders set the tone and the pace for change. Their compelling agenda invigorates employees and, if successful, spills over to the customers. It becomes the organization’s destiny — something shared by everyone involved.”

What else does having a clear direction accomplish?

  • It resolves internal disagreements over minor operational issues.
  • It frees people and resources to work toward achieving the organization’s vision.
  • It clears the deck of expensive, time-consuming (and, in the end, unnecessary) projects.

Our Vistage speakers emphasize the strong personal commitment leaders should bring to their vision. “The impact is measured by the CEO’s heart rate when talking about the vision,” Schmincke says. “If the heart is beating faster, then it’s a good vision. It has answered the ‘why’ of the organization.”

Thayer adds: “A CEO must create a fanatical vision that’s larger than anything else in life. If not, the CEO may call himself a ‘leader,’ but in fact is only the ‘head’ of an organization.”

Let me end with Bill Hawfield’s (http://www.theboardgroup.com/about/william-hawfield) Vision Planning exercise. Imagine yourself in a conference room with your leadership team or key employees. Your goal is to align your team, yourself with what’s most important, most strategic in a 30 minute exercise. Handout those 2”x 4” stickies or Post-it’s and have everyone one come up with 7 words on 7 stickies and create your VISION AFFINITY WALL. Start with a left to right positioning of someone’s 7 words then have the rest place theirs under or to the left or right of those already on the wall. In a short period of time, your team will create clusters of what’s most important, needs to get done.

 

Have a family filled July 4th weekend.

 

 

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