Many will say “by having a compelling vision”. It would be nice to have such a simple exclamation.
Having a compelling vision alone is insufficient for achievement as a leader. It must be complemented by communication and relationship building skills. Peters and Waterman, in “In Search of Excellence” in 1982, considered that the principal factor which seems to deliver organisational success is the manager’s ability to deal with people.
Dealing with people starts with establishing a shared understanding of purpose. CEOs cannot develop a compelling vision or a strategy on their own. Yes, they need to have an agenda, and be results oriented (results get attention), but these cannot be developed in isolation.
The reality is that the best CEOs are good at articulating the aspirations of their fellow organisational members.
They are good at listening and observing their own people, and turning those aspirations into a compelling statement for the organisation.
Simply put, the best leaders set the direction by energising the aspirations already in the organisation.
Articulating and communicating that vision turns it into a statement of shared purpose. The much sought after alignment of staff is more correctly described as a continuing process of orienting people towards the core objective, and to initiate actions that contribute to the achievement of purpose.
And organisations become more effective as this shared understanding translates into another continuing process of always challenging what is being done – does it contribute to the purpose? Is it consistent with values? If so, is it the best way? What are the risks? Is the risk worth taking? And so on.
Rather than being seen as the action of a charismatic or transformational leader, the purpose provides for a fundamental need in people. It is one in which they can find meaning and a sense of personal worth. It is a framework in which their contribution can be appreciated, and not just externally, but in greater levels of self-esteem and confidence.
Two other factors are important, and can be deal breakers no matter how effective a leader has been in developing a sense of purpose. Those factors are trust and respect.
Trust is easy, and whilst it encompasses concepts such as integrity and fairness, in organisations it comes simply from making yourself and your position clear, and then honouring your commitments. That is, doing what you promise. This requires accountability and reliability, and implicitly requires you to think carefully about the commitments you are making, and recognising the impact that you are having on the organisation and its people. Max De Pree rightly talks of leadership as a serious meddling in the lives of others. Consider your commitments carefully, make them public and then honour them. Too often this becomes a stumbling block!
Respect, also, is easy. To gain the respect and confidence of staff, managerial leaders must be able to display competence in the work of the organisation, not just in “management expertise.” This is not an argument either for internal appointments, or for appointments of people who already understand your business. Many leaders entered jobs in which they have little content knowledge, and those who survive invariably go into a deep dive to understand the business and its nature. As they develop expertise, and display empathy with the joys and trials of the business, they win respect. Those who do not work to understand the business falter.
The essence of managerial leadership is to develop and demonstrate the expertise and understanding that allows you to articulate a core purpose for the organisation. Translating that purpose into action is the essence of successful strategy and that requires you to be clear about your intentions and “walk the talk”.