Empowered by Vision: Articulate exciting future possibilities and they will follow
“A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done.”
— Ralph Lauren
A clear and inspiring vision is arguably one of the most powerful tools in the leadership toolbox. It provides well-defined direction, a benchmark for decision-making, gets everyone on the same page and facing in the same direction. One of the most important things you’ll do, as a CEO or leader, is to articulate and engage people in the future possibilities of that vision, and then set the strategy, so that those possibilities can become a reality.
The 7 Attributes for a compelling vision (longitudinal study*)
As a start, here are some of the key attributes that Research has shown, makes vision statements relatable, engaging and inspiring. A vision statement should be:
- Clear and Concise
- Future oriented – a vision of what is possible
- Stable – it should be big enough that if the market shifts, it won’t be obsolete
- Challenging – it should require discretionary effort to accomplishment it
- Abstract – it’s far broader than a one-time goal
- An Ideal worth working for – it must be inclusive, inspiring and aspirational.
A vision needs to be achievable and compelling, something that people can ‘see’ and relate to, that makes them want to move towards it.
Your people arrive at our business for their own reasons – they have their own ‘why’ for being in a job. Your most important role, as visionary leaders, is to align your people’s personal needs and values with the overall organisational purpose, vision and values (with values being the moral compass, the set of principles or ideals that drives your vision). If you’re able to do this successfully, that vision and values becomes embedded in your people’s hearts and minds, carried by them at a visceral level and it plays out in their daily decisions and actions at work.
So what does it take to get this right? What does a visionary leader look like?
Visionary leaders are passionate and confident. Controlled, concise, direct. Calm in the face of a storm and able to make tough decisions. They are good listeners and good communicators; always a step ahead; inspiring and able to bring their people along on the journey.
In addition, a visionary leader is clear on their own personal code and goals. They hold themselves up against them and invite their people to do the same. Visionary leaders maintain their excitement – even in the face of adversity. They know when to speak up when something doesn’t work. They don’t avoid conflict or run away – they lean in. Visionary leaders are courageous, yet they have the humility to say: ‘I don’t know the answer, together we will find it.
Research conducted by Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes (award winning researchers and co-authors of the book, The Leadership Challenge revealed that vision is second only to truthfulness in importance, when it comes to leadership traits.
As visionary leaders, then, it is not only your role to model and drive that inspirational vision, it is critical that you do so, authentically. Be yourself. Don’t measure yourself up against a Richard Branson or Steve Jobs. Your vision and values need to be grounded in what matters to you. When you carry the vision and values at a visceral level, you become the embodiment of them, and the honesty and authenticity of your vision and leadership will ring clear, through your words and actions.
So, with all this in mind, how do we make sure we’re building responsible leaders to create extraordinary teams? I like to talk about ‘The Three Secrets’…
- Vision and Values
Make sure you have a vision and a clear set of values. Be clear on where the organisation is going. This requires that you, as CEO, are personally aligned to the organisational vision and values, and that your own personal vision and values are aligned. To be successful, it also requires that every one of your people is aligned to the organisation’s vision and values…If not everyone is aligned, conduct a team-building exercise to achieve alignment. If there are still pockets of misalignment, address this directly and authentically.
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that there is a strong relationship between shared values and organisational performance. In fact, one study* showed that if you can cause alignment between personal wants and needs and organisational vision and values – you can increase productivity by 12% (versus 5% growth without values alignment)…The differential is because of the increase in discretionary effort that results from your people internalising and living the values.
- Know how to fight clean.
A clearly articulated vision and values provide you with a standard against which you can hold people to account. If you’re facing a challenge, conflict or opposition, you can provide context to fight for the accomplishment of your vision.
- Are you having fun?
Being or becoming a visionary leader is challenging – it’s also be fun. If you’re not having fun – what are you going to do to change that?
How vision and values support you as a leader?
A clear vision of where the organisation is going, supported by a strategy that articulates how you’re going to get there, and a set of values that shapes your people’s behaviour in executing that strategy, provides you confidence and peace of mind that everyone is on the same page. It gives you capacity and frees up time to redirect to other priorities. Those are precious commodities for any leader in a rapidly changing environment.
With everyone pointed in the same direction and striving for the same goals, you minimise dissonance and disruptions and the associated opportunity cost.
The vision/values framework grounds you as a leader and as an organisation. It gives you a place to stand strong, providing clarity and putting a stop to arguments and noise. It is also a place to start difficult conversations, and allows for powerful accountability.
As the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, wisely pointed out: if you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which road you take.
And one final point on values. Your people watch and notice everything. What you do or say (or don’t do or say) tells your people the level to which you are living those values.
Bringing values to life – with a distinction
The same word can mean different things to different people or organisations. In order to ensure your chosen organisational values reflect what makes them important, or what gives them meaning to you or your organisation, you need to provide a distinction for each value. Organisations can have the same value, with an entirely different distinction.
For example: ‘Curiosity’ is one of our company values. Our distinction is “Honouring contribution” – that creates meaning for us – inside of what we do and how we do it.
One of our clients – Central Earthmoving – has ‘Commitment’ as a value, their distinction is: “We are all in”. Some years ago, when that business faced challenging times after losing one of their biggest clients, the CEO used that value to hold everyone in the business accountable, asking each employee “Are you in? It’s okay if you’re out…” That was a strong lever and accountability mechanism at that time, and throughout the journey back to financial stability, which was also a real credit to the visionary leadership of the CEO, and the commitment of his people.
Another of our clients – DEM Fire, found that their vision ‘Uncompromising in our commitment to fire safety’, became central to all of their decision making – and took first place in their conversations. Even the most difficult decisions were measured up against this statement. DEM Fire is managed jointly by brothers Tom and Gary Marshall, who say “You can’t role it out until you live it personally. It’s a central anchor – preventing you from making soft decisions. As brothers, it provided a way to argue cleanly. It’s a double-edged sword and it can be difficult when people call you on it –it’s really given us the courage to set our own direction.”
That’s the power of a clear vision and shared values.
Pathfinding and culture building
The purpose of vision and values is to light a path and build culture. As you navigate your way through challenging times, the vision and values keep you resolute and clear.
How do we hold a team in that place of maximum engagement and connectivity? Again, I’d like to share another three magical secrets:
- Vision – Create or co-create with your senior leaders, a vision that is clear, compelling, inclusive and relatable.
- Communication – As leaders, speak the vision and live it, at a base visceral level. Walk the talk and bring it to life for your people, at every opportunity.
- Empowerment – Celebrate and acknowledge the actions that your people take in service of the vision and values. Empowerment comes from giving people “task cues and desired behaviours” that align with the vision and values. When you do this, you get discretionary effort.
Visionary leaders forge the path. They breathe life into the vision. Your vision and the power of your values act like a candle in the dark, that lights the way for others.
No-one said leadership would be easy…it’s just worth it.
*J. Robert Baum, Ivan C. Dutterer, Inc.; Edwin A. Locke, University of Maryland College Park; Shelley A. Kirkpatrick, The American Institutes for Research: A Longitudinal Study of the Relation of Vision and Vision Communication to Venture Growth in Entrepreneurial Firms