Apply these 3 skills to define and execute your leadership vision.
Executing leadership vision may be among the toughest core competencies for leaders to develop. To successfully execute your leadership vision, you must be able to define the vision, strategy, and tactical plan for your organization, and then effectively communicate it to your team in a way that engages and focuses them around a common goal. The three secrets to successfully executing your leadership vision are defining and communicating your vision, strategic vision, and planning and prioritizing for long-term goals.
Leadership Vision Secret #1: Define and Communicate Vision
What happens when you lead a team with no vision? Everyone ends up working, and often working quite hard, but important goals are never achieved. A vision brings the team together under a common goal so that your team is not simply working, but is working together to create something that moves you closer to realizing your leadership vision.
Leadership vision is a vivid, aspirational picture of the future of your organization. It is long-term and measurable. Your vision answers the question: Where are we going? You need to be crystal clear in your definition of what that destination looks like, even if you do not yet know exactly how you are going to get there. This definition gives you and your team the ability to know exactly where you are located within the vision at any given time and whether you are getting closer to or further away from that destination. That destination must be exciting, not just to you and the people on your leadership team who may have helped you craft it, but also to the people who are charged with fulfilling it. It is not enough to simply define a vision, you also must create buy-in from your team and your stakeholders to execute it.
SpaceX is an aerospace organization with the vision to enable human life on Mars. There are many obstacles in the team’s path to achieving that vision. Advances in human understanding and technology to sustain life on the trip to the red planet have not yet been accomplished. That does not deter individuals on the SpaceX team from trying because, as they put it on their website, they were “founded under the belief that a future where humanity is out exploring the stars is fundamentally more exciting than one where we are not.” Inspiring? Absolutely.
Buy-in starts with how clear and exciting your leadership vision is, but it’s only sustained through the way you communicate it, celebrate it, and live it every day. People need to understand your leadership vision, be reminded of it, and see how you role model your vision to remain personally invested in it. But, perhaps most importantly, they need to understand the context and its overall intention. They need to understand the Why. Why are we going there?
Leadership Vision Secret #2: Strategic Thinking
When a financial news magazine asked executives what makes the world’s most respected companies truly great, the top factors they name are having strong management and a sound business strategy. Although great strategic thinking may be among the rarest of executive skills, it is certainly one of the most important.
Your strategy defines how you will achieve your leadership vision based on a number of internal and external factors. Vision is the search for meaning. Strategy is the route that we take to get there. It is simply the search for advantage, and it also ensures you are planning for potential issues in your market. Both of these things factor heavily into our strategic thinking because the strategy can never be done in the absence of destination, and the destination cannot be reached without a clear route.
Strategic thinking can be developed by constructing “memories of the future.” When you think back to one of your fondest past memories what comes to your mind? You may vividly see people with whom you share the memory; see your surroundings; and sense the sights, sounds, and smells that were around you at that time. Do you recall how you felt during this memory?
That is exactly the clarity you need to create your memory of the future. What is it that you see, hear, experience, and feel? Make your leadership vision as clear as though it has happened to you already, and then you can start constructing the route—the strategy—that will take you there. This route should be a 2- to 3-year trip, and you must be able to measure your progress.
Being a great strategic thinker does not mean being able to do it all alone. In fact, it is the opposite. You must always find ways to bring in different views and perspectives about your business to inform your thinking. Your direct reports and external advisers can help you identify that your ideas and assumptions are free from confirmation bias, or that you are willing to walk away from the herd in your industry.
Leadership Vision Secret #3: Plans and Prioritizes
An aspiring young manager in a small U.S.-based medical supply organization found out the hard way how vision and strategy without a plan leads to burnout and frustration. He went to work for the organization largely because he felt connected to the energy of the CEO who was innovative, energetic, and full of great ideas. The young man felt compelled to work under him as a role model and a mentor. He was initially ecstatic to land the job, and the first year seemed to offer him the chance to participate in exciting growth. The manager loved getting to know the industry and working with his colleagues. He believed in the CEO’s leadership vision and the mission of the organization and truly felt as though he was going to make an impact.
But, as the first year turned to the second, the manager began to feel the wear of misused time and unfocused energy. The CEO continually came up with great new ideas—ideas that never left the conference room. Due to a lack of structure, focus, and follow-through, the CEO would simply float the idea without assigning responsibility or structure to anyone. As a result of misdirected goals, this young man and the rest of the team became overextended and frustrated. They moved numbly from one idea of the week to the next, never truly completing a project or celebrating a win.
Your team needs structure and a plan to execute your leadership vision. They need to achieve closure and key wins related to their work, which they are pouring their energy and expertise into accomplishing, on a daily basis.
Your leadership vision is what drives the actions of your team, and although internal and external factors may force you to adjust your strategy and plans, the mission should remain unchanged. Define a clear, compelling leadership vision that you and your team can enthusiastically support. Then communicate it and continuously demonstrate your own commitment to your vision. Think strategically about the factors that drive your organization or team and develop a strategic plan that is realistically optimistic, unbiased, and influenced by multiple perspectives. The achievement of your strategy will be determined by how well you implement and monitor your annual plans and key initiatives.
Core Competency: Executes Vision
Considers a broad range of internal and external factors when creating strategies and implementing plans. Translates business vision and strategy into plans and sequenced priorities to best deliver results and leverage resources.
Executes Leadership Vision Competency Skills
- Define and Communicate Vision: Communicates a compelling picture of the future that connects and motivates others to action.
- Strategic Thinking: Sees the big picture of future possibility and creates strategic connections leading to competitive advantage.
- Plans and Prioritizes: Formulates objectives and priorities, implements and monitors plans in alignment with the long-term strategy of the organization.
Executes Leadership Vision Toolkit
To get your team thinking about vision and communicating a compelling picture of the future, facilitate the following exercise:
- Assign small groups (no more than six members to each group) and have each group select a facilitator.
- Task each group to develop an aspirational headline and visual cover story about your organization ten years in the future.
- Allow for a few minutes of individual thinking time, and then the group facilitator selects a person to start the story.
- The story continues to build as it moves around the group and each member adds specifics to the story.