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’?

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. 

The Difference Between Managing and Leading

My last post focused on the scourge of micromanaging. In it I noted that there was significant differences between managing and leading. I received a comment from a reader, Michaël Ben-Yosseph that was very kind and had nice things to say about the post. He also suggested that in my next post I discuss not just that there is a difference between managing and leading but exactly what those differences are. 


Well, this is my next post. So here we go! 


First I would say that the difference is as large as the difference between night and day. We manage stuff and we lead people. Perhaps the biggest single difference is that stuff, budgets, inventories, buildings, etc. don’t have feelings. That alone makes managing a whole lot easier than leading, at least to me.


People, at least the ones I know, most definitely have feelings. For many of those people those feelings are easily hurt. 


That’s why it’s vital for a leader to care about their people. You can care about people without leading them but you simply cannot lead them without caring for them. An attitude of genuine caring will shape every other interaction and communication you have with your people. So will a care less attitude. If you do not possess a genuine caring nature you will struggle as a leader. 


Managing is very much about today. It’s a one day at a time kinda thing. Leadership is of course about today but it’s also about tomorrow, the next day, the next week and the next years. That’s why leading requires vision and managing requires tenacity. 


Managing is a very specific business, it’s the art of steering the ship on a well-defined course. Managing requires facts, data, and objectives. Leadership is the art of turning the unlikely, and at times the impossible, into tangible, reachable, realistic objectives. Organizations seldom manage their way to success. Organizational success requires leadership. 


Managing is an inside job. Managers utilize their internal resources to make things happen and achieve the goals of the organization. Leaders understand the outside as well as the inside. This provides them with the insights required to see their entire business environment and anticipate needed changes as well as understand potential opportunities. 


Leaders influence while managers direct. It’s really not always that black and white but it’s almost always that black and white. While leaders focus on what will matter, and on why it will matter, managers tend to focus on how it will matter. 


Said another way, leaders decide what to do and managers decide how to do it. Unless of course the leader is also a micromanager and then all bets are off. 


Leaders are really the heart of an organization. They inspire, coach, vision cast, create and nurture the organizational culture. They keep the organization moving forward through communication and motivation. No organization succeeds without solid leadership. 


No offense to leaders but managers are more like the brains of the organization. They make the rules, set up policies, programs, etc. Managers are about business, not people. No offense to managers but they usually see people as just another tool or asset they can use to get the task completed. No organization succeeds without diligent management. 


Frequently the skill sets and the more important mindset of managers and leaders are so different that it’s challenging for one person to possess both. But “things” tend to work better when managers have a heart and a whole lot better when leaders have a brain.

It’s not that one person can’t be both a good manager and great leader, it’s just that it requires effort and dedication that sadly, too many managers and leaders appear unwilling to make. 

What Makes a Leader

Calling yourself a leader does not make you a leader. Holding a position of leadership in your organization does not make you a leader. Having an important sounding title does not make you a leader. Having someone else describe you as a leader does not make you a leader.

Your promotion to a leadership position does not make you a leader, in fact the managerial skills that likely earned you the promotion are very likely holding you back as a leader.

If you’re trying to manage your people then you will always have people problems. Human beings do not respond to being managed. Actually leading your people will permanently eliminate most of the “people problems” managers face everyday. 

So, here are a handful of traits that contribute to being a leader:

Risking your success being hidden inside the success of someone else makes you a leader. 

Caring as much about the advancement of those around you as you care about your own advancement makes you a leader.

Tackling the assignments no one else will tackle makes you a leader. 

Investing your time where it’s needed rather than where you want to makes you a leader. 

Making right decisions that most people simply won’t makes you a leader.

Finding common ground where only mud previously existed makes you a leader.

Seeing the potential within every person you meet makes you a leader. 

Doing what’s right when everyone around you believes it’s wrong makes you a leader.

Working to build more leaders rather than more followers makes you a leader.

Understanding that your own success is dependent upon the success of your people makes you a leader.

Having the courage to let the best idea win, whether it’s yours or someone else’s makes you a leader.

Understanding that constant collaborative communication with your people will help them succeed makes you a leader.

A willingness to be held accountable, by anyone and everyone makes you a leader.

Being completely honest with yourself makes you a leader.

These are some of the traits that make a leader. To be sure there are more. Few leaders possess every recognized leadership characteristic but they possess more than people who do not lead.

The right to truly lead must be earned. It can’t be earned through what you say, it is earned through what you do. Leader “wannabes” tend to talk leadership, Authentic Leaders tend to do leadership. 

Are you just talking or are you doing? 

Enduring Leadership

Enduring leadership is a characteristic of a great leader. Truly great leaders, what leadership gurus would call a Pinnacle Level or Level Five leader leave behind their leadership when they are done leading.

They leave it behind in the form of leaders they have helped build. That’s why you can’t truly declare someone a Pinnacle Level leader until they are at or near the end of their leadership career. 

You see, good leaders are judged by what they do; great leaders are judged by what gets done when they are not leading anymore. A truly great leader’s leadership outlasts them.

If you lead any kind of organization and nothing of you or your leadership remains when you leave the building for the last time then your leadership was of the common variety. Pinnacle or Level Five leaders are not at all common, in fact they are the most uncommon leaders of all.

They have not only built a solid follower-ship, they have built outstanding leaders who will carry forth their legacy and very likely build more leaders of their own. It is not a coincidence that Pinnacle Level leaders have almost all been led at some point in their career by another Pinnacle Level leader. 

If your ultimate leadership goal is to become a Pinnacle Level leader then you’re likely to fall short of your goal. Achieving recognition as a top level leader is seldom the goal of a Pinnacle Level leader, their goal is to make a difference in the life of their organization and the lives of the people they lead within it. 

Achieving Pinnacle or Level Five Leadership Status is merely a byproduct of their commitment to their people. 

Motives matter when it comes to leadership. You don’t build more leaders to reach the Pinnacle Level of leadership, you reach the Pinnacle Level of leadership by building more leaders.

Uncommon Leadership

I’ve had the opportunity to spend several days recently with a person recently promoted to a leadership position. He was very good at what he did and earned his promotion. His promotion came with a new title and higher income, unfortunately what it didn’t come with was any hint of how to actually lead. So he doesn’t lead, he just tries to get by managing his new team.

I’ve seen the same scenario play out literally hundreds of times through the years. A person is good at what they do so they are promoted into a leadership role even through they have little, or more commonly, no leadership experience or skills at all.

I call them common leaders. I don’t mean to be disparaging here but it is what it is… common leadership really isn’t leadership at all. At its best it’s just managing and and at it’s worst it’s something much worse. That something involves fear, coercion and sometimes even outright abuse. 

Absent any real leadership skills people in leadership positions too often tend to use intimidation, coercion, threats and punishment to force the compliance of their people. 99.9% of the people in leadership positions who use those tactics are not bad people, it’s just that in many cases that’s how they were taught to “lead.” Sadly, they were likely taught to lead by people who themselves had few if any leadership skills. So the cycle of common leadership simply repeats itself. 

Individuals who do manage to break the cycle of common leadership and become uncommon leaders don’t do so on their own. They most often have a mentor or are led by someone who has broken through the common cycle themselves. 

Here’s one of the most interesting aspects of leadership: it can’t actually be taught but it can be learned. It is learned not so much by listening to a true leader but by watching them. 

Authentic leaders lead by example. They show the way to true uncommon leadership. I can tell people what to look for in a leader, I can share with them the characteristics that make a good leader, and I can even help them judge whether or not someone in a leadership position truly processes those characteristics but a person must teach themselves to lead. 

Let me give you one example. 

Caring for people, truly caring and investing yourself in another person’s success and well-being is an absolute characteristic of an uncommon, authentic leader. I can tell someone that, I can point out a person who has that characteristic but I know of no way to teach someone how to care. They must develop that caring nature on their own. The quickest way to do that is to see someone else display their own caring nature and decide if the results they see are something they want in their own life.

If you were taught to lead by someone who did not develop those uncommon leadership skills then my very best advice to you would be to find a mentor who has. Find a coach or hire a coach who will help you break that cycle of common leadership and become a leader who can actually make a positive difference in the lives of those they would lead. 

Never assume that a leadership position makes you a leader. A leadership position doesn’t come with the right to lead, that must be earned by demonstrating consistent leadership skills. 

Develop those skills and people will naturally follow you.