If you have ever seen the hit TV show Shark Tank, then you know that it is a great resource for entrepreneurs to learn how to effectively run a business. People such as Mark Cuban and Daymond John provide great insights on how to fund your start up and how to be a great leader. Yet with all of these experts showing entrepreneurs what it takes to lead, why do so many still struggle with this skill?
We are often told that vision is an essential feature of great leadership. But what is leadership vision, how do you develop one ,and what role does it play in business success?
The best place to start this discussion is by exploring how businesses become successful. Business success does not always depend on vision. Suppose you are a creative entrepreneur or inventor and you develop a desirable set of products that are in great demand.
According to the Coaching Institute, your business success may be mainly a function of your ability to keep up with demand and to produce your products as efficiently and profitably as possible. In this case, no vision is necessary. Your business hit the ground running and your employees couldn’t be more motivated.
This suggests two factors that determine when a leadership vision may be useful: (1) when your business is struggling or needs to change its ways to be successful or (2) when employees are not very motivated.
The Essence of Leadership Vision
To be effective, a vision must motivate employees. Putting the first man on the moon by the end of the 1960’s was John F. Kennedy’s vision and it is one of the most famous examples of an effective leadership vision. “To motivate employees, a vision might be expressed in a great speech by its leader, but it doesn’t have to be” suggests John Rogan of Motivational Speaker.
The vision to put the first man on the moon would have been motivational to the engineers and scientists who made it happen no matter how the vision was expressed. It was motivational for two reasons: it gave them a very concrete, time-related target and it was an exciting challenge.
If you own a car rental company, creating a motivational vision would be harder. How much more can such a business improve customer service and lower costs? If you are already in the top 3 in this industry, how much higher can you go? The most motivational vision for such a business might be to make it to number one over the next 3 years. If your vision isn’t time-related, it’s hard to get excited about it, mainly because there’s no sense of urgency to do anything new.
A leadership vision is essentially a goal or target, but not just any old target. Improving your business’s profits by 10% by the end of next year is a worthy goal but it couldn’t be called visionary because it’s not very exciting. A vision is much easier to formulate in a business that is struggling or nowhere near the top in its market. Suppose you run a business that develops similar products to Apple Computers but are not really visible at all in this market. A vision to beat Apple in 5 years would be a huge challenge and either motivational or just too scary to even contemplate.
A vision to make a laptop for under $100 so that more people in developing countries could afford one is inspirational. So is the vision to make high speed internet access available for everyone in a certain region by a certain date.
Does your Business Need a Vision?
Before you develop a leadership vision for your business, take a hard look at whether you need one. The most important consideration is whether you need to move your business to a different place as, for example, Intel did when its chip business, its main source of revenue in the company’s early days, started to fail and they decided they needed to switch their focus and major on microprocessors. The other major question to look at is employee motivation. Are your employees already highly motivated? If so, how much more would a vision motivate them? In this case, a vision would only be necessary if you wanted to move in a new direction.
Developing a Vision
If you dream up a compelling vision on your own, fine. But if you really want to motivate employees with your vision, you should engage them fully in developing the new vision. This is precisely what the level 5 leaders described by Jim Collins in Good to Great did. The meaning of his slogan – first who then what – means that the CEOs he studied got their best people into a room and grilled them relentlessly until a new strategy or vision emerged. For Collins, level 4 leaders develop and promote their own visions which could fail to really engage those who have to make it happen.