4 Tips to Develop a Strong Leadership Vision

Seneca said if a sailor doesn’t know where he wants to go, he’ll never get a favorable wind.

The same is true of any company or organization.

Indeed, articulating a clear vision for your business is one of the most fundamental things a leader can do. A vision should describe your business’s core purpose and paint a persuasive picture of your company’s future.

As a leader, it’s your role to turn that vision into a reality. Here are four fundamental concepts you need to address first in order to make that happen.

1. Think big

Boeing built its reputation on manufacturing warplanes, which is why their revenues plummeted by more than 90 percent after the Allies declared victory in 1945. Orders for bombers simply evaporated. In most people’s minds, Boeing equaled bombers.

However, Bill Allen, who had become Boeing’s CEO that same year, had a different vision. Allen’s vision focused entirely on commercial aviation. In 1952, he convinced the board to invest heavily in what would become the first transatlantic commercial jetliner. Fortune magazine deemed it one of the greatest business decisions of all time.  

Allen’s genius was envisioning a company that built flying machines, not just war flying machines. He didn’t impose limits on the company’s potential by limiting its vision. He thought bigger — and so should you.

2. Be crystal clear

In Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick, the authors interview Colonel Tom Kolditz, an expert in behavioral sciences and military leadership.

Kolditz says one of the keys to making a complex military operation successful is a concept called “Commander’s Intent.” This is a clear and plain statement that describes the end state of a plan.

This statement appears at the top of every U.S. Army order to help align the behaviour of the soldiers, allowing them to improvise and adapt as necessary while staying true to the ultimate goal.

Kolditz says: “As a commander, I could spend a lot of time enumerating every specific task, but as soon as people know what the intent is they begin generating their own solutions.”

Make sure your vision is instantly understandable to your employees so they can use their own creativity to help achieve it.

3. Build awareness

An old marketing adage called “Magic Number 7” says people need to hear a message at least seven times before they’re ready to buy into it.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of noise in this information-heavy world. You are essentially competing for your employees’ attention just like any other advertiser, television show or consumer product. That’s tough competition, so don’t take it for granted that your employees are sufficiently aware of the end game.

Devise a plan to effectively communicate your vision to your team. Reinforce it whenever you can and in as many ways as you can. It is only when you have widespread awareness that your vision can be executed effectively.   

4. Stick to the vision

The infamous failure of Kodak to capitalize on digital camera technology is often seen as a failure to adapt to changing times. Yet it was more that the company failed to remember its own vision.

When George Eastman founded the company in the 1880s, his vision was to “make the camera as convenient as the pencil.” Over the course of the next hundred years, the company was hugely successful in doing so, at one time owning nearly all of the market share for both cameras and film.

But the company missed a huge opportunity in the early 1990s when Don Strickland, who at the time was Kodak’s vice president of digital imaging, told his colleagues that his team had created the world’s first consumer digital camera.  

The company saw digital technology as a threat to its highly profitable margins on photographic film. Consequently, suspicious Kodak executives bombarded Strickland with questions, asking how many units they would sell and how profitable the business would be. Strickland didn’t have any answers. As he said: “All I had was something that I knew was disruptive.” The executives were not convinced.

A company built on innovation had forgotten its own guiding vision to make photography simpler and ultimately ended up declaring bankruptcy in 2012.

Meanwhile, Strickland left Kodak in disillusionment in 1993. And where did he take his ambition and creative skills? Apple.

Leadership permeates everything

Leadership — or lack thereof — permeates every part of an organization.

Here’s a not-so-secret insight: your employees always know whether your ship is on a solid course and if it can weather the storms ahead. It’s a remarkable human instinct. If your team has doubts about where your company is heading, performance suffers.

The same goes for your partners and customers. Even from the outside, people can tell whether your company has strong management and is moving in the right direction. You may be able to fool them for a moment, but that’s a very short-term game.

Solid leadership is the only real long-term game. Having a clear, strong leadership vision is essential to getting the most out of your people. When everyone is on the same page, it helps to drive loyalty and unleash creativity and innovation.

Make sure your vision is guided by the fundamental factors discussed here. As long as you get these right, you’ll be well on your way to creating that “favorable wind” that will help you achieve success.


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