I got a call from one of the most inspiring leaders I know:
“Dave, I’m so frustrated, I have a vision for what we could be doing to grow the business, I think we can achieve so much more than we are–we are making our numbers. But we can do so much more, I can’t get people to move forward!”
What this leader faced is, probably, the root challenge of all leaders. Leaders tend to have a great vision, sometimes an inspiring vision, and the challenge is, “How do we get everyone in the organization share that vision with the same intensity as we do?”
We see various approaches to this, each of varying effectiveness.
There are the dictators, “You will do this, my way, or I will find someone who will!” Al Dunlap, otherwise known as “Chainsaw Al,” is probably one of the more famous versions of this type of leader. These leaders may have short term success, but find it impossible to sustain. They don’t have their people/teams behind them.
While “Chainsaw Al” is a dramatic example of this, we see this behavior in too many executives. They dictate the direction, failing to achieve the buy in and support of the people responsible for making it happen–the rest of the organization.
We see another behavior, leaders losing their vision, being seduced by the organization–consequently not driving important changes. At one point in my career, I almost fell into this trap. I was part of a turnaround team. The people in the organization were very smart, very talented people. As we started discussing changes we needed to make, my vision of what we might do, how we could grow; these well intended people presented all the arguments about why we couldn’t do these things: “We’ve tried this before…., It won’t work because of this…., Others have tried it and failed….”
The arguments were always well thought out, well presented, I was tempted to succumb, seduced by the arguments of smart well intended people. But then I remembered, they had failed. I was brought into the job to drive change, to get performance back on target, to get us to grow. If I sacrificed my vision and the things we needed to do drive success, I would have failed them, I would have failed the CEO and the Board who had entrusted me to turn the organization around.
As leaders, we can’t abandon our vision, we aren’t doing our jobs if we aren’t getting the support of the organization in implementing our vision.
Sometimes, as in the case of the frustrated leader at the start of the post, we get ahead of our interference. We charge ahead, pursuing our vision, cheerleading the organization, but not realizing they aren’t following–often for very good reasons. We find the gap between what we are trying to achieve and the organization’s capability to achieve it widening–and our effectiveness as leaders plummets, while our frustration sky rockets.
Hence, the core challenge every leader faces, “How do we get everyone buying into our vision with the same intensity and energy as we believe in it? How do we get them to own the vision as their own, with the same intensity that we feel?”
This is at the core to every change initiative, it’s the core to why we as leaders exist. Our job is to get everyone in the organization to share the same vision with the same intensity that we do. It must become the organization’s purpose and mission.
We achieve the organization’s goals through our people, not through our individual initiative. If we fail to engage our people, if we fail to mobilize them to change, we fail!
It’s never easy, it’s often frustrating, but it’s our job. We can’t abandon the vision, we can’t move forward without the organization. We must engage them in owning the vision.
As quickly as we want to move, until everyone else is on board, we fail.
Leadership is about being patiently impatient!