He wasn’t brought it to change the company, but he was expected to grow it a significant amount. On his first day, he gathered the key managers together and asked us to pull out a notepad. He asked each of us to think about the worst case scenario at our company: revenue drops, layoffs, a loss of quality. Then, he asked us to sketch out the place 5 years from now if those things happened. How many employees would we have, how many products, how big a sales force, etc.
Then he asked the question: Would any of us want to work here if that were truly the case? Of course we all answered no.
Then, he asked to turn the page and imagine a more successful future. He encouraged us to dream big and think. What revenue number might we achieve? How big of an organization would we have? Had we branched out into other product lines or acquired other companies? Then, he asked the real question he had in mind all along. If that’s our goal, what do we need to do to set us on the path to get there.
It was the first step in defining a vision that would pave the way to a highly profitable future. That’s the number one thing on my list of the top 10 things great leaders do.
- Create the vision It’s not about having a “mission statement” or “culture statement,” but it is about defining a vision for your team. How can you expect them to go forward if they don’t know where you want them to go?
- Communication the vision You have to be able to articulate the vision in a way that your employees can understand. It’s not enough to say we need to generate more sales. You have to define the process and the pathway to get there. Everyone has to understand the vision – not just your managers.
- Manage the vision It’s absolutely true that it’s difficult to manage things you can’t measure. By establishing benchmarks to measure progress, you can reinforce the vision. At the end of the day, you’ll be judged on your performance. A lot of other things can be overlooked if the results are strong. Spend as much time as you can on what really counts and the things that will achieve the greatest outcomes.
- Deliver a shared vision Do your employees really know what’s in it for them if they achieve your goals? If the end result is the company makes more money, that’s not enough. What’s their personal stake? Raises? Promotions? New skills? For the vision to be effective, they have to have a stake in the game and they need to succeed if the company succeeds. Conversely, they need to know the consequences to failure.
- Explain the why If you tell people what to do and stop there, they can often complete the task, but without understanding the underlying logic to their job. That makes it difficult for them to repeat the task without constant attention and almost impossible to make the right decisions on their own. But if they know why something is being done and why it matters, they are more likely to be able to replicate the behavior in different circumstances. The flip side is always telling them what to do, which means you’ll always have to tell them what to do. Isn’t it better to teach them how to do it so they can do it without your attention?
- Imagine the future You must be strategically focused and forward-thinking. While your team is effectively carrying out the mission, it’s your job to be looking out to the future. If you don’t do it, who will? That may mean literally scheduling time to think into the future, or regular sessions with your top people to help define the future. With the seismic shifts going on in business these days, it’s critical that the top leaders help guide all of us by looking ahead.
- Delegate often. I know you’ll do it better than anyone else. That may indeed be how you got to where you are. But to get things to the next level, you have to be able to be able to delegate even mission-critical projects. If you don’t have the team members to do that, perhaps you don’t have the right team. And didn’t you get where you were because someone trusted you to take on critical projects?
- Manage conflict. Strong-willed, aggressive people aren’t always going to agree on everything. In fact, disagreement may be healthy for an organization if managed properly. It’s up to you to set boundaries, acceptable behavior, and manage conflict as it arises.
- Be honest. When you’re leading people in a new direction, it’s critical that they trust you. While it takes time to earn someone’s trust, it starts with honesty. If you have bad news to share, don’t hide it. My old boss used to always tell me, “Bad news doesn’t get better with age.” Even if it’s something people don’t want to hear, they’d generally rather know so they can deal with it. Often, we hid behind “trade secrets” and “need to know” policies. Ask yourself honestly if you share this information with the team will it help them understand and achieve? If you can’t trust them with important information, do you have the right team in place?
- Always be asking questions. Often, things can appear to be going just fine when they aren’t. By always asking questions, you’re showing others that they should be inquisitive as well. Sometimes it’s that one question that causes people to think past the obvious. Remember, it’s not your job to tell people what to do, it’s to show them the way and let them help create the vision. Instead of telling them flat out, it often helps to ask the right questions to lead them to the right answers.
I will leave you with this one final thought. Listen. Listen to your team and listen to your customers. If you really listen, they’ll tell you important things you need to know. To hear them, though, see #10. And remember, it’s not about being the smartest, it’s about harnessing the brainpower in the room to achieve the goals.
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room