Inspire with a Shared Vision for Leadership Success
- 24 Best Leadership Practices | Part 1 of 24 -
Leadership is not a command and control role but rather an inspire and enable role. As such, leaders can't command action but rather only inspire action. As such, leadership is not so much about intellect but rather about connecting with people on an emotional level. Simply, great leaders plan with the mind but lead from the heart. Accordingly, leadership is first and foremost about appealing to people’s hearts – even more so than to their minds. While leadership is ultimately not a meeting of the minds but rather a meeting of the hearts more often than not, leaders try to inspire via a focus on non-inspiring metrics such as financial or operational goals (e.g., increasing revenue). While such metrics are obviously important, and perhaps quite inspiring to shareholders and board of directors, the followers (i.e., employees) will find such a vision not only underwhelming but also uninspiring.
Thus, without invoking inspiration, any vision and aspirational goals are merely hollow words that will produce minimal results. Simply, while revenue growth and profitability are important, leaders must never forget that these financial metrics are not the real fuel that drives the engine of inspiration, action, and ultimately success. As such, and to inspire action instead of command it, leaders should lead with emotion, enable buy-in, and create action by creating a shared vision. This can be accomplished by focusing on three key areas, specifically:
Inspire by focusing on the "why"
Inspire by becoming a dealer in hope
Inspire via setting high expectations
1. Inspire by Focusing on the Why
While profitability is a necessary condition for existence and a means to more important ends, it is not the point of inspiring employees and/or enabling action. Simply, goals such as profits are the "what" a company wants to achieve and not the "why" they want to achieve it. For example, George Merck II once challenged his company to “never to forget that medicine is for people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we remember that, they have never failed to appear.” Simply, profits come as a consequence of pursuing the higher ends and as a means of enabling successful action of the higher ends. Unfortunately, many CEO's easily fall into a trap of trying to inspire others by saying they “want” to be the best, they “want” to become number one in their industry, and/or they “want” to reach certain financial numbers. Simply, they're trying to inspire others by leading with the “what” they want to become instead of the “why.” The end-goal is indeed good for a leader to have top of mind but ultimately the “what” a CEO aspires a company to become can easily ensure one is leading from the mind – not the heart. Ultimately, many people across the organization don’t find such a goal engaging, let alone inspiring. Instead, successful leaders find methods to frame such a goal in a manner that can appeal and inspire everyone across the enterprise by explaining the “why” behind the company’s rationale for becoming number one and/or reaching certain financial metrics.
For example, a leader of a healthcare company can try to inspire by saying they want to be the best healthcare organization within two years (i.e., the what). This will inevitably produce minimal results and inspiration. Alternatively, they can say that together we’re going to completely transform healthcare and bring newfound health, wellness, and inclusivity to families across the globe. In so doing not only will we positively impact millions of lives but we will also help transform the healthcare industry, ensuring all healthcare organizations are enabled to bring better care to others. And, in the process we’ll also become number one in the healthcare space. Simply, the "why" were doing something preceded the "what" we want to become.
By framing aspirational goals in a more inspiring manner (i.e., the emotional why) not only do leaders create a shared vision but they also create engagement. Simply, what resonates for each individual across the enterprise may be different but each of them will emotionally connect with an element of such a "why" message. Consequently, employees will then be motivated, excited, and passionate about making that vision a reality because it transcends the mind and invokes the heart. This is in stark contrast to simply working towards a number or the idea of becoming the best company in the industry. While such a message may be sound in theory it doesn't enable inspiration and without inspiration enterprises won't enable action but rather instead foster artificial harmony.
Ultimately, if a leader prioritizes its employees and customers - starting with inspiring versus commanding action via a shared vision around the "why" - profits will follow. To accomplish this lofty goal, any leader must enable action via painting a clear picture of (1) "where" we're headed, (2) "what" we can become if we collaborate together, and (3) "how" we can execute upon this inspired vision. However, none of this will come to fruition unless a leader focuses on the "why" instead of the "what." Remember, financials are important but ultimately focusing on the numbers minimizes inspiration because it is leading from the mind. On the other hand, focusing on the “why” ensures one is leading from the heart because it brings laser focus to a shared vision that ultimately transcends any financial numbers.
2. Inspire by becoming a Dealer in Hope
George Washington Carver once noted: “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” Accordingly, without moving people from the heart, not the head, any leader won’t be able to inspire hope, let alone enable action. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) inspired a shared vision by envisioning the future and painting a picture of what that vision looked like (i.e., he created hope). To do so, he used four powerful words to enlist others in a common vision, specifically “I have a dream…" Ultimately, this call to action painted a powerful and hopeful picture of an exciting, empowering, and ennobling future while also inspiring those around him to engage and help in advancing a cause that transcended any one individual. Simply, he breathed life into a vision by being a dealer in hope. As Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner noted, a great leader must “envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities and enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.” As MLK proved, leaders must appeal to something higher than mere intellect – simply leaders must appeal to the heart via creating a shared vision of hope and a greater future. As Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Leaders are dealers in hope. When you give people hope, you give them a future.” As such, leaders can't command action but rather inspire it by becoming a dealer in hope.
3. Inspire via Setting High Expectations
Finally, to inspire action leaders must promote the pursuance of an exciting, large goal - one that's currently out of reach yet attainable with the right action. Otherwise, a status quo mentality sets in where companies are imitators instead of innovators and reactors instead of disruptors. As David Joseph Schwartz noted, “Think little goals and expect little achievements - think big goals and win big success.” Similarly, Sam Walton aptly noted, “High expectations are the key to everything.” Simply, leaders must inspire by setting a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). Perhaps one of the best known BHAG examples was President John F. Kennedy's statement, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." And, indeed the setting up this very high bar inspired action and set the United States on a fast track to achieving this goal. Ultimately, leadership is about unlocking people’s potential and what better way than creating self-fulfilling prophecies that transform ordinary individuals into extraordinary innovators and leaders, a notion that's not possible without first inspiring via a an ambitious BHAG and shared vision. Remember, inspiration and hope are born from a vision, which only happens by appealing to people’s hearts more than their minds. Finally, setting high expectations via an inspiring vision is the precursor to great accomplishments.
To summarize, this leadership best practice can be summarized that leading from the heart comes before the head and that moving with emotion is the gateway to action. As such, leaders must inspire action instead of command action by planning with the head, leading with the heart, and reflecting with the soul. As such, leaders can successfully begin this journey by (1) focusing on the "why," (2) becoming a dealer in hope, and (3) setting high expectations. Perform these three steps and any individual will be well on their way to leading and inspiring others.
Read the other best leadership practices HERE.
24 Best Leadership Practices
- Series Overview -
The following article is Part 1 of a 24 part series on leadership (See all 24 best leadership practices HERE). To summarize, leadership is everyone’s business. Moreover, leadership abilities are not some innate talent that some were either born with or not but rather is a highly learnable skill. As such, everyone has the potential to become a great leader as long as one embraces a mindset of continuous improvement. Simply, leadership is not so much about inherent gifts and raw talent but rather the emotional awareness, humility, and perseverance to understand that leadership is a lifelong journey that is never mastered. Indeed, aspiring leaders must acquire the endurance of a marathoner, the musculature of a sprinter, and the mental fortitude to embrace that there is never a finish line but rather an unending goal of continuous transformation.
Ultimately, the leadership journey is not about becoming someone else but instead is about becoming one's best self so that in turn one can help others become their best self. And, while there are many facets that go into successful leadership we have identified 24 best leadership practices all of which are grouped into one of three categories, namely (1) inspire, (2) empower, and (3) innovate (see all 24 practices HERE).
INSPIRE: To inspire action, great leaders appeal to people's hearts more than their minds. Simply, visionary leaders plan with the mind, lead with the heart, and reflect with the soul.
EMPOWER: Great leaders empower those they are leading while simultaneously creating a collaborative culture that promotes the notion that together we can accomplish anything as long as we don't care who gets the credit.
INNOVATE: Visionary leaders embrace change and understand that the term "good enough" is used by the lazy to justify inaction. As such, great leaders disrupt themselves and their companies before others do it for them.
Leadership is the greatest race one will ever run – one without a finish line but also one with an exponential ceiling for those that embrace change, growth, and learning. While the level of employee talent may determine the potential of an organization it is the leader that ultimately unlocks that potential and determines the success of both the organization and its people. Although no leader will be a master at each of the proposed 24 leadership practices, awareness is often the greatest agent for change and continuous improvement. As such, we hope the proposed practices will be of service to you in maximizing not only your leadership potential but also the potential of those around you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joshua Seedman is the founder and chairman of PNI Consulting, a management consulting firm that specializes in global transformations. He has over 20 years of operating and general management experience with expertise in organizational transformations, customer experience, employee engagement, digital transformations, sales & marketing, operational turnarounds, culture/change management, and high-stakes negotiations. His experience includes executive roles within F500 companies, top-tier consulting leadership (McKinsey & Company), over 10 years of global P&L ownership, and corporate lawyer (Davis Polk & Wardwell). He received his MBA from Kellogg School of Management and his Juris Doctor (cum laude) from Northwestern University School of Law.