By Martin Fisher
Think back to the best leader you’ve ever followed.
For me, it was my Professor of Military Science when I was in ROTC during my college stint.
Look at him and at first you’d see him as an â€œaverageâ€ Army officer. He’d had a bunch of good assignments, some not so good assignments, and was finishing up his career teaching young men and women the finer art of leadership. If you only knew him casually you’d be wondering why all of these young men and women were so dedicated to the program, the Army, and (in a lot of ways) to him.
The reason I did was simple: the Major was able to describe a vision to me of what the Army could be, what I could be, what all of us â€“ together â€“ could accomplish. He told the stories of what he felt we could do in such clear and compelling language that we were enthusiastic to do some pretty (in retrospect) amazing things. Things that, outside of the context of the vision, made absolutely no sense…like jumping out of perfectly good airplanes while still in flight…like marching through mud, dust, and pollen for kilometer after kilometer…like lying in cold rain for hours waiting for the ‘bad guys’ to show up…and so on and so on.
Casting Vision: It’s Not Just A Sales Job
Without a compelling vision a leader is hamstrung.
They can push and pull the levers of the team, they can make adjustments to the machine that is the team â€“ but they cannot get the team to reach it’s full capability. Without a compelling vision the leader is simply reacting to events instead of shaping the events and circumstances. The leader, without a vision, is not really leading at all.
Just to be clear â€“ we’re not talking about the simple â€œperformance managementâ€ task of assigning goals and objectives to individuals and ensuring that there is a cohesive flow to them. We’re not talking about â€œmission statementsâ€ or â€œpurpose statementsâ€ (although they may enter the conversation later). We’re not even talking about how to justify the capital expenditure needed to get the â€œnew systemâ€ online.
When we talk about casting vision we’re talking about being able to tell a story that accomplishes some very specific goals.
Acknowledge What Is
Any vision must start at the beginning.
You must be able to acknowledge the good, the bad, and the ugly about the current situation. You have to be completely honest about where you are coming from. To do otherwise begins with a foundation that cannot support even the most compelling vision.
Vision, built on false assumptions or denial of the past, collapses in on its own weight. That being said, don’t flagellate yourself (or the team) unnecessarily either.
As Sergeant Joe Friday says â€œJust the factsâ€.
Describe What Is To Come
Vision, at it’s simplest, is a story describing how things should (or can) be.
The story needs enough detail without going to deep. It needs to be lofty and idealistic without sacrificing a real sense of reality. The story needs to reach out to your team and show them that they can be much more than what they are today.
But a simple vision is, many times, not enough.
Vision needs to take into account what you want your team to accomplish and also show how that plays into the goals and aspirations of the larger team. Vision, especially for larger teams, needs to be large and sweeping and dramatic and dynamic.
Most importantly, the vision must be Yours.
Demonstrate Your Belief
Only you can effectively get your vision off the ground.
If you do not share it convincingly, if you cannot show that you believe it in the deepest fiber of your being, if you cannot demonstrate you are willing to sacrifice personally to make the vision appear then: You. Will. Fail.
Think back to when you knew the boss was simply mouthing words that the boss thought you wanted to hear. Recall when you could tell exactly which motivational book the boss was parroting. Remind yourself of all those times that you knew (and I mean, YOU KNEW) the boss wasn’t believing what they were saying.
Do you want to be that?
Make The Mental Shift Yourself First
Once you’ve communicated the vision to your team you must make the mental shift in all your communications, thoughts, and presentations and ensure that the tenets of your vision are constantly and consistently communicated.
You need to make your vision, no matter what it is, the focal point of all your activities. You must be â€œliving the visionâ€ every day in every way.
Once your team sees that you believe, once they know that you are not just â€œsaying wordsâ€, once they realize that the vision is for real â€“ then you can move on to the next (and, to me, most fun) step.
Help The Team See And Act On The Vision
Once the team sees that you believe and that you are willing to act on the vision they will be prepared to begin really looking at the vision the way you do and will start to act on it in ways that they think will help bring it about.
Your job is easy â€“ you get to be a cheerleader, mentor, and disciplinarian all in one. You get the chance to reinforce the vision with team members and experience what I think is one of the coolest parts of leadership: you get to see your team members grow as people and you get to see your team grow in it’s capabilities.
But that growth doesn’t â€œjust happenâ€… In our next episode we’ll talk about how to take your vision and use it to build a stronger team.