Great leaders offer clear, compelling and credible visions of a future better than current reality. The teams they are responsible for follow and excel because they understand exactly where they are headed (clarity), develop a deeply emotional connection with getting there (compelling) and believe that future can be realized, even against tall odds (credibility).
I believe that every one of these ingredients are critical to a successful vision, which in turn is a critical foundation for all the other pillars comprising great leadership (ability to attract great talent, create and sustain a winning culture, excellence in execution, continuous improvement).
Clear, compelling and credible. Simple, right? It's not in practice.
Achieving clarity (and coherence) requires a deep understanding of your strategic situation(customers, competition, internal competencies, industry trends and dynamics and so on), the ability to formulate a winning strategy rich enough to inform the myriad of tactical decisions a business must make, and then to reduce that strategy to its essence, so that it can be understood by all.
When you or I look at a chess board mid-game, we see complexity. A couple of dozen pieces, as many or more possible choices of next move for each player, millions of possible ways the game might play out. A grand master sees with clarity. A current position with a certain balance of power, and several possible "lines" of naturally connected moves that link present situation with desired outcome. It's the same for great leaders — they have the ability to see and articulate paths forward through complexity, because they have developed a sense of the patterns and forces that constrain, amplify and shape such things in their industry.
Can you explain your strategy to a seventh grader? No? Not simple enough.
Great leaders connect with their teams on an emotional plane and ensure that the team vision becomes personnal. That's the only way visions can compel. Achievement of your goals has to become the personnal commitment of each and every team member. Not in some dry, institutional sense. It has to matter deeply to each team member whether you win or lose as a team. This happens when the leader can shape the aspirations at both team and individual levels. This requires emotional intelligence and the courage to use it. The ability to understand how other human beings think and feel about situations and possibilities, and the willingness to operate with the candor, sincerity and even vulnerability required to earn the trust needed to be heard and believed. More than any other attribute, this is what separates leaders from managers.
You think about your business at 4:00 AM. Does your team? No? You haven't connected with them.
Incredible visions don't become blueprints for success. Teams may be wowed by them, but never fully invest in them because they don't believe they can come true. Without that investment of belief and effort, the vision will not be realized. So credibility, in natural counterpoint to the mandate to be compelling (read bold, exciting, BIG), is the final required ingredient to a winning vision. Credibility is achieved when the leader shrewdly balances boldness with blunt realities and gets the team to be confident that they can accomplish more today and tomorrow than they thought they could yesterday.
Does your team deeply believe in your vision? No? Maybe they don't believe it.
Leadership is hard. That should be your inspiration.