“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded that you don’t care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
~Colin Powell

Visionaries are considered a rare breed. They have an ability to see a completed project or a successful event when others see an empty whiteboard or a vacant lot in an undesirable part of town. When they attempt to communicate vision, they are trying to bridge a divide; between skill sets, personalities, socioeconomic status or even world view. For this effort, they are admired and often receive a PASS for not being able to effectively and strategically communicate, what they can so easily envision, to the masses. They thoughts and ideas are seen to somehow transcend the rest of humanity; making them unable to illuminate the path for those who willingly carry the torch across the finish line.  

While visionaries are credited for their innovation and inspiration, those who are fully committed to assisting them in meeting these common goals struggle to see their part in the bigger picture. So, the problem seems to be two-fold. Rather than ask questions or raising thoughts or suggestions, managers and team members hear the words of the vision, take it at face value and set about to interpret the strategy, processes, policies, procedures and oversee the people who will make the dream a reality without adequate understanding.

One reason this can happen is that many organizations have nurtured a culture which discourages questions or alternate opinions. Somehow asking a question makes you less of a team player. Another reason managers fail to speak up might be because no one else is asking any questions; therefore, you assume that everyone else must know something that you don’t. Remember 5th grade when the teacher would ask… are there any questions? No one raised their hand, but you discovered the next day when the assignment was due and few students had completed it correctly that you weren’t the only one with a question… and that your question had the same answer that others needed to know but failed to ask.

I have had the pleasure of working with many directors and managers who are excellent communicators and who have become quite adept at “managing up”, in efforts to keep the organization’s vision moving forward. Unfortunately, their influence only goes so far. They run out of meaningful answers to their teams’ questions, because process and procedure details are unclear. Once managers receive the vision direction, they need time to digest the information for meaningful dissemination. Motivated to remain productive in their collaborative efforts with the leader, the lack of understanding causes managers to revert to saying something that my generation vowed never say to our children… Because I said so. Those words aren’t used, of course, but the phrases are just as ambiguous.

As much as I would love to see effective and meaningful communication become a grass roots movement or a bottom-up revolution that overtakes the top tiers of leadership… in general, that’s not how organizational change takes place.

Colin Powell, one of our country’s greatest assets (in my opinion) saw his role in the lives of US military members as an important one. Leaders such as he are willing to put forth the same effort that is expected of those they lead; displaying a personal commitment to ensure meaningful, goal-oriented communication organization-wide. There are several ways to begin this growth process as a visionary leader.

One way is to surround yourself with team members who compliment your skills – people who are smarter than you are in their areas of expertise. Let others help you see the vision from a variety of perspectives and articulate it in ways that make it easy to be owned by everyone. This action helps in creating buy-in and developing unity among team members across hierarchical levels of the organization.

Second, make yourself vulnerable by delegating important assignments to these individuals within the scope of their expertise. Be sure to include strategists on the team – people who can provide win-win opportunities during the process. Managers are valuable in moving the vision forward as well as accurately and effectively conveying the mission perspective and purpose to those who are on the front lines (servicing customers directly).

The outcomes of these activities will be evident as purposeful and clear strategy and process align with the vision to produce positive and sustainable results. I’m excited to hear your experience so leave me a comment to let me know how it goes.

COMM Envy

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