Why Leaders Need Vision

Leaders don’t need 20 20 eyesight to have good vision. What they need is an imagination, an idea of what is possible, and a picture of what the future may hold. 


That vision should guide them and motivate them to grow and improve. It should provide hope in the tough times, particularly if their vision includes an understanding of their purpose and the purpose of their organization. 


A good vision can show the leader where they and their organization are headed. It will pull the leader past the inevitable roadblocks that pop up within every plan. A true vision provides focus. The vision helps answer every question that could come up. If something gets you closer to your vision you do it, if it doesn’t get you closer to your vision you don’t. Good vision provides clarity for a leader even during the foggiest of times.


Good vision helps a leader answer the “why” question that can otherwise place doubts in the leader’s mind. A leader with good vision always has an answer to the “why are we doing this?” and “what’s the point?” questions that can haunt leaders with lesser vision. Particularly when those questions come from naysayers. 


Good vision does all that and more for a leader and you know what? It can do all those things for a leader’s people and their organization too. 




If the leader is effective at casting that vision upon those people and the organization. Since a leader can’t really do much alone they must be able to communicate and “sell” that vision to their people. They must reinforce that vision through their words and actions at every opportunity. 


People find it easier to follow a leader when they know where that leader is taking them. They find it much much easier to follow a leader when they know they are included in the vision. 


When a leader shares their vision with their people those people become engaged and they stay engaged. When those people buy into the vision they commit to making it happen. When all, or at least the majority of the people within an organization share the same vision that organization is nearly unstoppable. 


If you’re leading any type of organization today then you must, must, must develop and share your vision for your people and organization. You must share it soon and you must share it often. You truly cannot over share your vision. 

The alternative to not sharing your vision is… well, we don’t want to go there because that my friends would be a very sad story. 

First Person Leadership

If you can’t lead yourself you can’t lead anyone. 


Too many people in leadership positions focus all their leadership energies on leading other people. They forget about leading the person most responsible for their success… themselves. The problem with that is it often causes someone to hold the people they lead to a higher standard than themselves. 


They know exactly the qualities and characteristics they are looking for in their people but they never stop long enough to see if they possess those qualities and characteristics themselves. They forget that they are the model of successful behavior for their people. 


What about you? Are you leading yourself with the same standards that you apply to your people? 


It’s likely you expect your people to have a positive attitude. Have you checked your attitude lately? Attitudes are contagious and a leader’s attitude is more contagious than most. If your people see you struggling with your attitude then they will struggle with theirs as well. Maintaining a positive attitude is a choice and it’s a vital choice if you hope to lead effectively.


Are you an emotional leader? Emotions are a powerful human force but they are also a twin-edged sword. Too little emotion and leadership dies pretty quickly. Too much emotion and it can die even faster. What kind of emotional model are you for your people? If you can’t lead yourself to control your emotions than it’s almost certain you can’t lead anyone else to control theirs. 


Are you modeling enthusiasm? Leaders want their people engaged in and enthusiastic about their work. It’s not often that you find a leader’s people more enthusiastic than the leader. When was the last timed you evaluated your own level of enthusiasm? It’s hard to stay “pumped” everyday but if you act enthusiastic it doesn’t take very long until you’re actually enthusiastic. You can’t fake enthusiasm but you can make it. Act enthusiastic and you will be enthusiastic!


Can you lead yourself all the way to the finish line? Successful people finish what they start and that applies to leaders as well. Strong starts are important but it’s strong finishes that make people successful. You must push yourself to finish what you start. If you can’t get yourself across the finish line then you won’t be able to pull others across who are following you. 


You can’t start projects and leave them unfinished. When you do that you’re modeling unsuccessful behavior for your people. When that’s what you model that’s what you get.


When I want to know how well someone in a leadership position leads themselves I don’t invest too much time evaluating the leader. I evaluate their people, that tells me far more about the qualities and characteristics of the leader. Your people are a reflection of you. When they aren’t performing look first in the mirror for potential causes and solutions.


You can occasionally find that gem of a person who excels past the level of their leader. They find a way to make their own model of success. But generally speaking you as the leader are that model so it’s a good idea to stop occasionally to determine what it is that you’re modeling for your people. 

Always remember, before you can effectively lead others you must lead yourself exceptionally well. So… how you doin’?

Three Minute Leadership

One of the things I enjoy most about what I do for a living is that I get to meet a lot of people. As someone who enjoys studying people, their characteristics, habits, and attitudes, the more people I meet the better. 


It goes without saying that some people are more interesting than others. I recently met one of these “more interesting” people. It was after a leadership presentation that I did and this person came up to me so they could let me know that they agreed with everything I said. They also wanted me to know that I should consider that high praise coming from them. 


I knew better but I took the bait anyway and said in a questioning tone, “coming from you?” They proceeded to tell me that they were actually the best leader they knew. I was confused by this for a moment until I figured out that this person actually considered themselves to be the finest leader on the planet, or at least the finest leader they knew of. (Nope, I wasn’t at a big White House)


I said something about that being very impressive and thanked them for their comment. Then I immediately began looking for an escape. No such luck!


The person began to explain their own “excellent” leadership principles. I could have nodded in assumed agreement until they got to this beauty: if you’re spending more than 3 minutes a day “doing leadership stuff” with any one individual then you’re doing leadership wrong. 


If my wife had been with me she would have given me one of her knowing looks telling me to just walk away….but she wasn’t with me. 


So I started by violating one of Dale Carnegie’s most important Human Relations Principles and told this gentleman he was wrong. Dead wrong in fact, as in your leadership is DOA!


I mentioned that if he considered time with his people as being “spent” then they likely sensed that and were not truly following him. I said that most any Authentic Leader considers time with their people as an “investment.” They also consider that investment to be the most important and profitable investment they can make in their organization. 


Then, in the most non-confrontational tone I could muster I said something about having never met an Authentic Leaders who thought they were the best leader ever. He now seemed to be the one looking for an escape. Then, from almost 4000 miles away I could feel my bride looking at me like I was the poor leader in this conversation. I then decided to thank him for his “insights” and let him be on his way. 


Here’s why I reacted the way I did.


As a leader you have no greater responsibility than your people. Everything else in your organization may be urgent but your people are important, most important in fact. Never allow the merely urgent yet often unimportant tasks to rob you of the time you need to invest in the people who are truly important to your success and the success of your organization.


A very wise man once told me to never underestimate the absolute unimportance of nearly everything I do. It’s a sobering thought but it does keep a person from taking themselves too seriously. 

Your people must never fall into that unimportant category. You MUST view your people, every one of them, as worth more, much much much more, than three minutes day. 

Everyone Needs Encouragement

This post has a pretty simple title. I’m hoping that everyone who reads this knows that unarguable fact. 


Knowing it isn’t enough. If you’re a leader you must actually provide encouragement to your people. Consistent, planned and very intentional encouragement. Now, before you say that you “do that all the time” stop for a moment and think. Think about the last time you actually stopped long enough to truly focus on someone else and provide them with meaningful encouragement. 


How long has it actually been?


If you’re thinking that “nice work” or “keep it up” or “way to go” is actually encouragement then I would suggest that you need to change your thinking. Passing someone in the hall and tossing a “nice job” their way is not encouragement. It’s not a compliment and it most certainly doesn’t pass muster as a sincere Thank You. 


Actual encouragement is the act of providing positive feedback that focuses specifically on effort and/or improvement, rather than specific outcomes.


To encourage someone ask them how you can help them. Offer to assist (doing someone else’s work for them is not encouragement) them with advice or ideas. You may be surprised at just how powerful the simple question “How can I help?” really is.


Asking questions to help them uncover their own ideas is also a great encourager, especially when you point out that the idea is their very own.


Offer encouragement in public, let everyone see what a difference true encouragement can make. When you bring encouragement out into the open you develop a culture of encouragement within your organization. 


Providing real encouragement to others requires practice and preparation. Authentic Leaders set aside time to make certain this vital leadership responsibility does not fall through the cracks. Keep your eyes focused on your people and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to offer real encouragement. 

It might not be easy or even comfortable at first but keep at it. Once you become an habitual encourager you’ll wonder why you didn’t develop this awesome habit long ago.

Leading from a High Horse

I had a nice long “catch-up” conversation with a friend I’ve known a long long time. Since High School actually so it’s kind of a shockingly long time. 🙂


She works for one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world, she started right out of college, and she has done very very well for herself. She runs a very profitable part of the company and has a significant number of people who report either directly to her or to one of her direct reports. 


During our conversation she asked me something that I thought, given her success, was pretty surprising. She asked me how she could get her people to stop giving her their opinion without hurting their feelings.


When I asked her why she wanted them to stop giving their opinions she said it was just a matter of time. She simply didn’t have time to listen to people whose opinion didn’t really matter. 


It was at this point that I had to just stop for a minute (seemed like an hour) and think of how to respond. There was so much wrong with the statement I didn’t really know where to begin. Now this is a person I have great respect for, I remember her when she was so afraid of her own shadow that she couldn’t try out for the cheerleading squad. She has truly grown so much through the years and she is a wonderful person. 


But the statement was so incredibly insulting to her people that I couldn’t hardly believe she had said it. 


I asked her how long she had felt that way and she couldn’t pinpoint when it started but she said the feeling was growing and she was getting more frustrated with her people by the day. 


So I offered her these two ideas. I said that she really didn’t need to do anything, the “problem” would soon take care of itself. I said if her team had any brains at all they would soon realize that she didn’t value their input and the input would simply dry up on it’s own. I told her that hurt feelings would be the least of her problems because her team would simply disengage and be far less valuable employees and that the disengagement would be her responsibility. 


Then I told her that it wasn’t her team’s responsibility to stop offering ideas and suggestions; it was her responsibility to get down off her high horse and learn to value their opinions. I said if she had hired someone, or allowed someone to be hired, that she couldn’t learn from then she had allowed the wrong person to be hired. 


She was pretty quiet. 


I reminded her that when she was moving through the ranks that her leaders DID value her opinions and encouraged her to share them frequently. It was one of the big reasons she advanced in the company. I asked her where she would be today if her former bosses had thought of her opinions that same way she was now feeling about her people’s opinions. 


Here’s the lesson folks; sometimes we “lead” by letting the people we lead teach us. Sometimes we lead by simply listening to our people. We always lead by demonstrating that we value the people we lead. 


If you’re a leader who has gotten so full of yourself that you can’t learn anything from the people you lead then you have gotten to the point that you can no longer actually lead.


If you’ve forgotten that you can learn from anyone and everyone then you’ve forgotten how you became a leader in the first place. Get down off that high horse and retrace your path to becoming a leader, you may just be surprised at how much you don’t remember.

By the way, I’m happy to report that my good friend now keeps time open on her calendar each day just to be available for any member of her organization to drop in to her office with ideas, concerns, opinions, and suggestions. She’s a great leader and she already knew all that stuff I told her, she, like everyone else, just needs a reminder once in a while. 

Leading from the Front

Most commonly leaders lead from the front. There is nothing wrong with that, usually. But, if you’re only leading from the front you run the danger of getting too far out in front of your people and when you turn around there’s actually no one there anymore. 


Authentic Servant Leaders never outrun their people in their rush to succeed. 


Hopefully you’ve found yourself in a leadership position because in some way, or perhaps many ways, you have outrun your competition for the position. If that’s the case then one of the first things you need to do upon becoming a leader is slow your roll. Stop trying to outrun everyone else, the race is over. 


If you consistently outrun the people you’re supposed to be leading it won’t be long before you’re leading no one. You may have incredibly high expectations for yourself but it is a mistake to transfer the expectations you have for yourself to everyone else in your organization. 


They may not be as committed as you are, they may not have the same skill level as you, they may value “life balance” more than you and there are a hundred other things that could cause them to not keep up with your pace.


As a leader it’s your job to help them exceed their expectations for themselves and overcome any artificial limitations they may have. But…. and this is big, setting unrealistic and unreasonable expectations for your people will cause them to fail as surely as having no expectations at all. 


Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the front and pull their people to success, they occasionally lead from the rear and push their people further than they thought they could go. Most often however, Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the middle. It’s leading from the middle that allows a leader to come along side of their people and coach them to success. 


When a leader coaches their people to success they ensure that their leadership legacy outlasts their leadership. When a leader leads from the front or rear they tend to make more and frankly, better followers. But Authentic Servant Leaders know that true leadership success means making more than just followers, it means making more leaders.


That requires being close to your people. It requires that you never get so far out in front of them that they lose sight of you. It would be simple to say that if your people can’t see you then they can’t follow you. But the fact is if they can’t see you, hear you, and even feel you then they can’t learn from you. 


You can’t grow your organization without growing your people. You can’t grow your people by separating yourself from them. One of the fastest ways to separate yourself from your people is to outrun them.

Stay close to your people, never think of them as slowing you down. Think of yourself as the leader who helps them move forward as fast, but never faster, than they possible can. 

Do You Know The People You Lead?

One of the more critical responsibilities of leadership is making sure you have the right people in the right positions. Leaders who don’t understand this fail, and they take their people right into the pit of failure with them. 


You can have one of the most talented people in the world on your team but if you don’t put them in a position to succeed then their chance at success goes way way down. 


Albert Einstein said that “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will spend it’s whole life believing that it is stupid.” So it is with people too! 


You may not see all of your people as geniuses but each of them indeed has their own set of strengths and as a leader it is incumbent upon you to make certain that those strengths are put to good use. Doing so is good for both your organization AND your people.


One of the challenges many leaders face is that they simply do not truly know their people. They don’t know their motivations, they don’t know their goals (or if they even have any) and they don’t know what challenges their people are facing in their own lives. Too many leaders are almost completely unaware of the totality of their people’s strengths and that results in people locked into jobs that are often far below their abilities. 


No one wins when that happens. Underutilized people become unmotivated people in the blink of an eye. If you don’t know what you have in your people you’ll likely never get it out of them.


If you’re a leader and you’re not conducting regular “strength inventories” with your people then you run the risk of demotivating the very people you need to be as engaged as possible. Conducting these types of inventories requires you to interact with your people. It makes you get out from behind that Great Wall known as a desk and meet your people on their terms. Indeed, the huge side benefit of conducting “strength inventories” is you’re also taking the pulse of your organization. 


Do not believe your organization is so big that you as the leader can’t do this. You may leave some of the inventories to your HR group or other leaders but every leader in your organization should be doing at least some inventories of their own people. 

Not providing your people the opportunity to fully utilize their skills is one of the fastest ways to lose them. If you’re lucky once you lose them they will move on to greener pastures, if you’re not lucky then you’ll lose them and they will stay in your organization.