“Leadership is about going somewhere. If you and your people don’t know where you are going, your leadership doesn’t matter.” – Ken Blanchard, Leading at a Higher Level
Where is your team going? Do you know where you are taking them? When people are unsure, they hesitate. Decisions are delayed and action is replaced with confusion. If you team is stuck somewhere south of bewildered and east of perplexed, it is time for you to share your vision.
Does all this vision stuff really work? Think for a moment about Southwest Airlines. I had the opportunity to hear Colleen C. Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines Co., speak at a Ken Blanchard Company sponsored event. She told us that at Southwest, “we are in the Customer Service Business, we just happen to fly airplanes.” This common vision reminds everyone at Southwest that customer service is the foundation of their organization. When you fly Southwest, the company’s focus on customer service shines through their employees. There is no confusion.
The people on your team want leaders to show them the way to a successful future. People want leaders who are scanning the road ahead, looking for obstacles and opportunities.
“Being forward looking is the second most admired characteristic that people look for in those they would willingly follow. In fact, it’s this quality of focusing on the future that most differentiates people who are seen as leaders from those who are not.” – The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner
Great leaders are able to inspire us with a vision that speaks to us as individuals. This skill is so important, it is one of the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership outlined in The Leadership Challenge – Inspire a Shared Vision. Creating a vision is hard work for leaders. I know. I’ve done it for my own teams and I help other leaders develop visions for their teams. I’ve seen first hand the benefits of a strong vision.
In a past role, I was the leader of a large training and development team (over 130 people) in a rapidly growing company. We developed a vision: “Growing our company – one learner at a time”. We didn’t stop with a tagline. We also defined our vision in terms of our services, the level of customer service we aspired to provide and the culture we hoped to have on the team.
I was the leader, but I didn’t write this vision alone. We gathered a cross-section of our team and invested some time, and serious consideration, into the vision. It wasn’t easy to pull it all together and I remember the excitement in the room as we all agreed we had a workable draft.
What did this vision do for us?
- Decision making improved. Everyone could make better decisions, as we were all clear about our desired destination
- People could opt in – or out. Our vision was ambitious and most were excited. But some decided that they didn’t want to go with us. And that was OK.
- It became a source of deep common commitment. We’d found our common purpose. We are working to help our company grow and helping people grow their careers. Sometime, I would overhear people speak with passion about how important our work was to the company. It was exciting!
- We increased our executive sponsorship. Once we were able to articulate where we were going in a way that was both clear and compelling, senior leaders got on-board with helping us get there.
So now it’s your turn to inspire the people on your team with a shared vision. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Don’t wait for the perfect company vision. If you have one, great. If you don’t, you can still create something that will inspire your team.
- Focus on finding a significant purpose for your team. A great vision helps them see why their work matters.
- Ask “what’s next?” Ask yourself and ask others. Don’t wait until today’s project is over to start thinking about tomorrow.
- Ask the people on your team what they see – or would like to see – in the future. This will help you to include their aspirations in the team vision.
- Don’t create a vision in a vacuum – involve others.
- Share your vision and ask for feedback. Ask things like “Can you see where you fit in this vision?” and “Does this vision help you determine your priorities?”
Want to know more about how to make your vision effective? Take a look at this article on conducting a vision develop session.
Interested more about how the vision for customer service comes to life at Southwest Airlines? Watch this short video.
This video was given to the Employees and Customers of Southwest Airlines as a gift from Southwest Airlines’ President Emeritus, Colleen Barrett.
- Create a Vision: (an activity from http://www.leadershipchallenge.com)
- To Lead, Create a Shared Vision (hbr.org)
- What Leading with Vision Really Means (fastcompany.com)