Leaders seeking to
improve their skills are fortunate to have the words of numerous historical figures to guide their leadership actions. Among them, Jesus of Nazareth, who reminds us that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (Corinthians 5:7).
Leaders know where they are headed, even if there are no guideposts. They have faith that their image of a better future can and will be realized. Leaders are confident in their ability to get things done.
Getting things done implies a shift from the “good enough” to the “improved.” In fact, having a vision is one of the two most highly valued competencies defined by our government. But if vision is the art of seeing the invisible, as Jonathan Swift asserts, then visionary leaders accomplish no small feat as they imagine and then invent the future.
ENVISION THE FUTURE
One of the organizational oxymorons facing managers/leaders is the need to lead (or to envision the future) while at the same time acknowledging present circumstances. (This is the basis of Lewin’s Force Field Analysis, in fact, which analyzes the Current state of affairs in order to reach the Ideal state of affairs.) When Max DePree tells us, in Leadership is an Art, that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality, he is encouraging us to find the conditions that need remedy.
DePree also encourages us to ask how poets and philosophers would lead organizations. We’ll take it one step further: think about any famous person you admire–in any field at all: an athlete, a head of state, a military officer, a religious figure, or a movie star like John Wayne. Then think about the principles that probably govern that person. Use your image of that person running your projects. Apply his or her style to your own circumstances.
Prepare a statement regarding your vision for your own career, and another describing your vision for the small world in which you can/do exert leadership. Articulate those visions, not only on paper, but on blogs or in emails or conversations with others. Tell, specifically, what you plan on doing to make those visions reality.
Perhaps the simplest description of leadership behaviors is this one: “Leaders effect positive change.” To make that change, the rubber has to hit the leadership road, so to speak. Before starting on your journey of improvement, specify the reality that needs to be made better. That betterment is your goal or destination; it is why you are seeking to make a difference. You will ideally have a set of principles to guide you as well as a vision. These principles could be compared to learning the weather conditions before you start your journey, having the car checked and tanked before leaving, having the information/materials you will need all packed.
THE A-B-C-D-E PLAN
Part of the preparation needed to reach your final destination is a road map. The following five letters constitute just such a map. They will help you formulate plans for executing the vision you have.
A Anticipate Consider who is likely to object to your vision; consider what their objections will be. Then verbally arm yourself to overcome those objections.
B Benefitize List as many benefits as you can, for as many individuals/groups
as you can. How will the organization itself benefit if your vision becomes reality?
C Categorize Think of all those who will be impacted if your plan is implemented. How will you communicate with them?
D Develop Proceed now to outline the plan, include the milestone dates that
must be met.
E Extend Think positively. Assume your plan has been successfully
implemented, if only as a pilot project. How could it be extended? For a longer period? To other groups?
1) Author Warren Bennis asserts that leaders form strategic alliances. What strategic alliances could you/will you form?
2) How do you define “leadership?”
3) Why are others willing to follow you?
4) Retired CEO and author Max DePree asserts the last responsibility of a leader is to say thank you. How do you do this beyond using the two simple words?
5) He further asserts that in-between the definition of reality and the gratitude expressed at project-completion time, the leader is a servant and a debtor. What do you think he means?
6) How would you explain this exhortation by General George S. Patton: “Give direction, not directions”?
7) Overall, would you say your organization is above-average in the way it operates? If so, what factors account for the rating? If not, what factors account for the average or below-average rating?
8) Author Robert Kelley says that instead of more effective leaders, what we need are more effective followers. Would you agree? Why or why not?
9) He also says an effective follower can work well without close supervision, can assess what needs to be done, can make independent decisions, and can live without heroic status,” preferring to work in a team toward a common goal. To what extent do these behaviors describe your own behaviors?
A FUTURIST ON THE FUTURE
Futurist Joel Barker maintains that “vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference.” Vision and the action required to reify the vision are the most important tools in your leadership kit. Use them thoughtfully.