You don’t have to be CEO to be a visionary leader

Senior leadership, or adopting a leadership mindset, is about keeping focused on the vision, while understanding the people around you and appreciating the detail.

To be credible, you need to understand your whole team's motivations and challenges, while setting out the grand plan and bringing stakeholders with you.

This kind of thinking doesn't come naturally to everyone, but working at setting big picture goals and and making them happen will benefit every stage of your career.

This week's read shows how you can adopt a CEO mindset, no matter where you sit in your organisation - we think there's plenty to take away and apply with your own business and clients.

Until next time...

The Consilium team

Creating a unifying vision for an organisation is a fundamental skill for leaders.
A simple, bold, inspirational vision can feel almost magical: it brings people throughout the company together around a common goal and provides a focal point for developing strategies to achieve a better future.

Unfortunately, however, building a vision has become more associated with a company’s top-level leadership than the managers in the rest of the organisation. How often have you heard something like: “leaders set aspirational direction, while managers simply ensure that day-to-day operations follow accordingly”?

Even as a manager (and aspiring leader), however, you have a number of opportunities to get hands-on experience in shaping vision. In our research for the HBR Leader’s Handbook, we identified three critical vision-creation opportunities that you can grasp, even if you are not the CEO: contributing to senior leaders’ vision work, translating the company’s vision for your team, and developing a new front-line team vision that can be cascaded up through the company. Each of these can propel your professional development, leading to bigger responsibilities over time. We’ll look at these more closely before closing with practical advice about how you can make the most of these opportunities.


Helping the CEO Shape the Company’s Vision

Crafting a vision requires a certain element of seeing into the future. But good senior leaders know they are missing critical information: they are far removed from customer experiences, operational realities, and the hopes and dreams of people working for them. Tapping the insights and experiences of others who will be touched by the work can help senior executives achieve that sense of connection, and many institutionalize the gathering of these kinds of ideas: witness, for example, Sam Palmisano’s idea jam at IBM in 2003 in which he engaged thousands of employees and other stakeholders; or the Global Service Jam process that many city leaders have used over the past few years to engage their citizens in identifying opportunities for ambitious community improvements. Raise your hand to volunteer your own perspective in this kind of collective problem-solving, and not only will you begin developing your vision-creation abilities, but you’ll also learn from others who are working through some of the same problems that you are.

The World Bank offers a classic historical example of visioning beyond the C-suite. In 1995, when President James Wolfensohn saw the need to reinvent the institution away from its post-WWII reconstruction role, from the beginning he imagined a new, more philanthropic direction, something generally about poverty reduction. But to flesh out this vague notion, he convened multiple working sessions with clients, government members, and many other more junior executives and staff throughout the bank. Through the process, a broader team of stakeholders progressively articulated a fuller vision for the institution—“pursuing a dream of a world free of poverty,” but specifically achieved via increased professionalism for the organisation, increased learning and knowledge-building, and a higher standard of talent to be attracted and developed. This more pragmatic and motivating final version for the Bank benefited from the hands of many non-CEO contributors.


Translating the Company Vision to Make it Relevant for Your Team

Even if you don’t have chance to help shape the “early drafts” of your company’s vision, if you are a leader at any level of the organisation you will likely be called upon to work with your team to translate that vision for your particular unit or function. This in itself is vision-crafting, albeit at a smaller scale.

At the World Bank, for example, Dennis Whittle, the head of a small strategy team, brainstormed with his colleagues about how to translate the overall organisation's “world free from poverty” concept into something tangible and practical for his team. They came up with a vision that new poverty-reduction strategies could come from anywhere in the world, not just from the experts within the Bank. This idea led to a series of “development marketplaces” where thousands of people throughout the world could showcase innovative new ideas for economic development and compete for funding.

Imagine that you lead a logistics team at Amazon, whose vision is “to be the earth’s most customer-centric company…a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy.” You might cascade that vision down for your unit by imagining how accuracy of fulfillment and speed of product delivery makes good on customer desires about “finding anything they wanted to buy.” Similarly, if you were leading a local operations team for Lyft, which has a vision of “reinventing cities around people, not cars,” you might shape a vision for your team around the service to close gaps in public transportation in your city.

This kind of smaller-scale vision-crafting will benefit from the same kind of broader perspective that more senior leaders themselves will want to seek. Even if you are simply “translating” vision from the upper part of the organisation, take some time to solicit ideas from other parts of the company that also have a stake in your unit’s performance aspirations; and of course be sure to cross-check your “translation” with those senior leaders who are guiding the overall vision for the enterprise.

This week's read is too long for email, but we think it's worth your time - you can read the full article here.