Walt Disney told his crew to ‘build the castle first’ when constructing Disney World, knowing that vision would continue to serve as motivation throughout the project. Oftentimes when people fail to achieve what they want in life, it’s because their vision isn’t strong enough.
Gail Blanke, President and CEO, Lifedesigns
We are already at our FIFTH leadership strategy in this Learning to Lead series. Today could be two topics because not only do you have to have a vision, you have to communicate it, and each are integral strategies in implementing an effective leadership path. But because so much of what leaders are responsible for communicating is vision, it makes sense to study: VISION.
Successful women leaders have vision. They have both a personal vision and a career vision – whether that is for their personal promotion or for their company or their life. But vision sounds so intangible. It is hard to provide practical steps to ideas that you carry in your head. In How Remarkable Women Lead, an outstanding leader was interviewed about her success and she kept bringing the conversation back to her purpose: “When you have a higher purpose in mind and it’s shared by the team, leading is easier. You are not tripped up by the little stuff – who is ahead of you, or what department is out-performing yours, or a million other distractions. With purpose, setting goals becomes easier. You find the courage to face new challenges.” The authors of How Women Lead assert that you cannot be a successful leader without discovering and owning your own guiding vision. Repeatedly they highlight that your vision has to be holistic understanding of your life and your career and that you don’t have to adopt a traditional timeline for your leadership metrics or assume that your career progression will follow a straight track. The reality is, detours occur. And as much of the research shows, that detour can become your passion, your opportunity, or your new path.
To have an effective vision to lead, make sure you set direction and purpose (whether it’s for a whole organization or a committee on which you serve or a project which you manage); inspire loyalty by involving your team or followers; inspire enthusiasm and commitment in your team or staff; help your team believe they are part of something bigger than just the day-to-day work; and challenge people to stretch.
In addition to those intangible and aspirational aspects of vision, it has some concrete execution forms as well. In that cross-over between vision and communication, we see that great bosses, influential presidents, persuasive lawyers and even strong teachers know how to effectively motivate people to get on board with their vision through words and gestures. They use both verbal and nonverbal skills to convey powerful emotion. Many women have skills that intrinsically work well with developing a guiding vision and motivating people to follow that vision.
Effective women leaders have good communication skills which, as you can see, are critical to execution of a vision. They are excellent listeners. They hear what other people are saying to them and they respond appropriately. They tell people what they need to know in clear and compelling words. Their communications are frequent and to the point. Can you see how this might present a challenge for lawyers who often use extra words as bonus points? For strong communicators, and leaders, people know where they stand and what is expected of them.
Communication is a two way street. You must be an effective communicator. But you must also be able to understand what people are trying to communicate to you, sometime with less than ideal clarity. If you can not hear and distill the feedback from your team, your supervisors, your support staff, your mentors, and your colleagues, then you will be unable to communicate with them. People who are not heard are less likely to hear your message in return.
Additionally, a leader wants the most effective and productive team helping her achieve her goal. Brenda Barnes, CEO of Sara Lee Corporation, encourages truly valuing your team charged with following the vision: “How do you unleash fifty thousand people to get the job done? It goes back to how do you let them help. We changed from, ‘Let me tell you the answer’ to ‘What do you think we ought to do?’ Did we make them feel like they were worthwhile, or did we make them feel like they weren’t at all?” In order to implement a vision, you have to have participation and buy-in from your entire team and set of supporters.
Set your vision. Revisit it (because circumstances change and they take the vision on the journey with them). And analyze and improve your communication (including listening) skills. Make sure you have a vision that is guiding you first. It is that vision that will help you see whether your response to the next step should be yes or no, now or never, stay or move.