Even as kids, we developed radar on leadership. Consider the classic schoolyard game, Follow the Leader. Everyone has to do exactly what the leader does, or they’re out. Growing up, I remember watching that game dissolve time after time. The leader would start doing scary climbs or huge leaps, and the followers felt put at risk. The leader would make seemingly pointless changes in direction, the followers got frustrated. Finally someone would yell, What are you doing? You’re a terrible leader! And set off a culture mutiny.
Since we left the playground for the workplace, what’s changed? Not much. Though these days, vision’s become a buzzword — to the point where She’s a leader with a real vision can simply mean Nice marketing strategy. But still: effective leadership, particularly at the juncture between the old ways of working and the new, requires far more than a charismatic, alpha personality, and far more than a good PR team.
Here’s how to hone its critical ingredient, Vision, To Stay On Pace With The Future of Work:
1) Vision Is Mission Plus Tech Strategy
True vision involves a clear mission that informs every strategic action and decision. Bring that into a talent management context for a moment. If a CEO’s vision includes attracting the best and the brightest minds to the organization on a global scale, a visionary talent strategy will include a platform that’s social and mobile, agile and timely, shaped with this clear target group in mind. If it doesn’t, the strategy isn’t supporting the vision.
2) Vision Should Come From Within
Consider our iconic leaders. They appear to be so filled with their vision that they’re incandescent with it; lit from within. Steve Jobs is a great example: he lived and breathed his vision; such a part of Apple’s mission that “Think Different” could have had a black turtleneck as a flag. Such distilled strength gives a brand coherency and momentum. But to transmit your vision to others and inspire them, you first have to be filled with it yourself.
3) Vision Is Creative
What makes a leader stand out is that their ability to conceive of an objective that may not even exist: stores serving nothing but fancy coffee, cars a working family can afford to buy, a system of storing data without physical form or shape, yet nearly infinite capacity and capabilities. Then, when it comes to problem solving, where one person sees a dead end, the leader sees a road ahead. Bolstered by an unshakeable faith in their own vision, leaders see obstacles as opportunities.
4) Vision Takes Tenacity
It takes tenacity to adhere to a vision and defend it against the prospect of failure. But leaders roll up their sleeves and the world throws in behind them. Consider the recent news that insurance giant Aetna and retail mammoth Walmart are both raising wages is bound to cause ripples in the pond, as businesses are forced to similarly act in order to keep pace and attract employees — that’s one of the byproducts of a firmer job market. But the cost of these decisions is immense: Walmart, for once, has 1.3 million U.S. workers. It’s not hard to imagine the resistance such a strategy could come up against within the organization, and how hard fought the battle to get it done.
5) Vision Takes Vision
No, it’s not a typo: vision requires a sense of the big picture and a laser-sharp view of the future. This kind of foresight takes practice, but it’s part of what keeps the train on the track. Leaders need to be able to look at past performances, whether successes or failures, and be able to use that to predict future outcomes. Further, a leader can envision more than one possible outcome, and still have it adhere to their stated objective.
6) Vision Requires Communication
None of this will go anywhere if a leader doesn’t also have the tools to convey that vision to the organization, and inspire them to get the job done. That may also be why marketing has taken such a hold on the term: marketing is about creating the most engaging expression of an idea. Implicit in our ability to convey our vision is that vital compact that leadership needs to have with employees: one of consideration, and inclusion, and respect. Together, we can do it, as the slogan goes. And that, drives employee engagement and helps talent attraction and retention across the board.
A version of this was first posted on Forbes.