There are thousands of books and millions of experts on leadership. Every single one of them recommends something different, a fresh angle on deciphering an age-old challenge.
In recent years, for example, Simon Sinek has successfully reframed the leadership debate around the “Why”, and seems to be influencing organisations everywhere (notice how many company websites now have a “Why” page instead of “About Us”).
To my mind, as much as it may be a clichéd word, leaders have to start with a Vision.
A leader without a Vision is as much use as a bird with only one wing. It might flap about and go round in circles, but it will never take flight and soar. There is no excuse for a leader not to have a Vision for their business. If they cannot come up with a Vision of what they believe to be possible, why are they in the seat?
This is not just about CEOs either – this is about anyone leading anything, from the largest company to the smallest team. Anyone with responsibility for people is in a leadership position, and needs to lead with a Vision.
Whenever I’m working with business owners or managers, they are usually stuck dealing with day-to-day issues. I encourage them to step back and start by creating a Vision of what they want to achieve, looking as far into the distance as possible.
This isn’t about planning or strategy, it’s about thinking big and wondering – dreaming – about what could really be achievable. Only by asking big questions, do big answers swim into view.
“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” Thomas Edison
A Vision is not just something to write down in a Vision statement, share with the team and post on the company website, however. Great Visions also support day-to-day work, in many different and valuable ways. They serve a dual purpose therefore, defining both the ultimate goal, and helping everyone in the journey.
Here are 8 reasons why you must lead with a Vision, and why a great Vision can help leaders transform their businesses:
- A Vision deals in the art of the possible. A great Vision starts from what’s impossible and then dials back a step to find what is possible. Focusing on what’s possible is a far more inspiring and ambitious mindset than merely seeking the probable. An unyielding belief in what’s possible is the hallmark of all visionary leaders.
- A Vision gives meaning and purpose to the very existence of the business. Bill Gates’ Vision was to put a PC in every home. That’s more meaningful than just making sales or chasing shareholder value.
- A Vision is inspiring. Rather than motivating your people (with money and perks and promotion), inspire them with a lofty Vision of what that can help achieve. Employees who are inspired put their heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into their work. Rather better than employees who are just in it for the money.
- A Vision gets everyone aligned behind a single ultimate objective. No-one is in any doubt why they are there. Everyone is more likely to pull in the same direction. For any large organisation, making this happen is critical to fending of fiefdoms and politicking.
- A Vision helps in hiring and retaining great people. Who wouldn’t want to work for a company aspiring to transcend or transform their industry? Who can resist the call to arms of a leader who wants to go places, taking his/her best people with them? I was able to hire many great people with a powerful Vision of what we wanted to achieve.
- A Vision encourages boldness and risk-taking. Shooting for the stars is no easy task. It usually requires innovation and a willingness to make (survivable) mistakes in pursuit of a dream. Making big hires and taking on big investments takes boldness and a certainty of mind that usually only comes with a Vision.
- A Vision gives a context for every strategic decision. “Does this take us closer to realising our Vision?” is the simple question that needs to be asked in front of any major course of action (such as launching a new product or entering a new market). If the answer is “Yes”, press on, if the answer is “No” or “Not sure” then stop and ask why. Maybe you would be heading in the wrong direction.
- A Vision lifts spirits in times of challenge. Not much that’s truly worthwhile is achieved without setbacks and tough times. If the business cycle isn’t going your way, or you lose your biggest client, or your best person leaves for a rival, you need a reason to push through and survive the stormy seas. There is nothing better than an uplifting Vision to re-energise everyone for the journey ahead.
To be truly effective, any Vision – your Vision – needs to be as specific as possible. A vague idea of something better in the future doesn’t cut it. Define a tangible future version of your business – the size and scope of the operation, the key value metric (is it reputation, market share etc) and most importantly, how it will transform the lives of your customers and clients.
Steve Jobs had a Vision and made a dent in the universe. If you want to make a dent in your particular universe, you need to have a Vision of what that dent actually looks like!