Effective leadership necessitates the vision to not only see the obvious but also to see beyond the obvious. Great leaders possess the capacity of a vision to see through the mist. They know what is coming, or least they ask themselves: what’s next? what is inevitable? or what is the game changer?
Vision calls for the ability to forecast scenarios both favourable and unfavourable. To delve deeper into the act of envisioning something, you must also ask the right questions. It is questions that will pave the way to answers that can define the vision with more clarity, both in the short term and long term. Visionary leaders lead with questions. They ask uncomfortable and courageous questions.They don’t dodge the reality. Instead they build on their vision to create a better reality.
Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, once said, “We run this company on questions, not answers.” How true for a company that gets be asked with all the questions of this world!
Visionary leaders possess a vision about their business, people and customers. But it is not just painting a rosy picture alone that makes them visionary leaders. There are five things visionary leaders do differetly
1. Reinvent Your Business
Kodak died while Fuji survived the disruptive threat of the digital photography! What happened? Fuji reinvented their company understanding their core business of ‘chemicals’while Kodak got comfortable with their core businesses of ‘photography’.
Fuji reinvented its business by entering into pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Fuji had the core realisation that their core business were chemicals and not photography (it turned out that the 200,000 chemicals used for photography and film business, 4,000 were antioxidants).
BIC was a stationery company that was known for low-cost ballpoint pens. The company grew during the 1970s making low-cost plastic disposable pens and the company wanted to grow further. During a brainstorm session various executives suggested that the company should expand its product range by creating different-sized pens, multi-colored ones, and work on innovations like erasable or invisible ink. But the company took a different path of reinvention. They realised that they are not in ‘the low cost disposable pen business’; instead they are in the business of ‘disposables’. They shifted the perspectives from a pen manufacturer to becoming a maker of all manner of disposable, inexpensive plastic items. They rolled out more disposable products like plastic razors, shavers, lighters and eventually become the global market leader in branded pocket lighters and achieving the number-two market position worldwide for one-piece shavers.
Often the most important question to ask when reinventing your business is to ask: What business are you in really? Was it ‘photography’ or ‘chemicals’? Was it ‘low cost pens’ or ‘low cost disposables’?
Companies that reinvent itself has leaders who possess the vision to think beyond their core competency. Imagine if Amazon was only comfortable in their book business. Amazon grew by identifying new opportunities in their adjacent businesses (the everything store) and through navigating in unfamiliar terrains (like Amazon Web Services). Every growing companies that are built to last consistently reinvent and diversify their portfolios without getting stuck with their past success.
2. Accelerate Change
Slow change is no change. The velocity of change has increased. Product life cycles are shortened. The life span of Fortune 500 companies is less than 20 years. The challenges are mounting for the leaders today.
The fatal error is ignoring the changes outside your organisation, when it gets faster than the changes you make within your organisation. There are waves of Digital Darwinism, Big Bang Disruption and the rise of Exponential Organizations that can submerge monolithic enterprises. The critical choice is whether to go under the next wave or to ride the next wave. Amidst the faster rate of change, speed is the only modern day arsenel that can sustain your competitive advantage. Agility and sense of urgency (faster execution) are epitome of successes today. The rate at which you can execute an idea (overcoming all analysis paralysis) and how fast you can reiterate your offerings with a right feed back mechanism really counts for your ultimate success today.
As a leader, its easier to succeed in developing new processes and systems. But the hardest part of leadership is to change the cultural habit of ‘doing the new things the same old way.’ Great leaders know that change is a cultural process that requires a shift in attitudes, behaviours and routines of its people. They make change a smother process by creating clarity and helping everyone to get aligned to the goals and vision of the company.
Steve Jobs once said ‘Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”. Today innovation just doesn’t mean only making product innovations.
There are also process innovation, organizational innovation, management innovation, business model innovation, etc. Every time you try to do something in a new way: mostly improved, different, better, faster, cheaper, simpler and friendlier; you are innovating.
Visionary Leaders always think about doing things differently. They don’t defend the status-quo instead they change it. They also know that new growth requires new way of thinking. Visionary Leaders focus on innovation and they facilitate an environment within (nurture a culture for innovation) and outside (open innovation) their organization to collaborate across teams (start ups, think tanks etc.) to innovate and create value for their present and future customers
As a leader, it’s your job to know where your business is headed and what disruptive forces might actually challenge its own very existence. After successfully innovating iPod Steve Jobs asked his people; ‘what can disrupt iPod’? The answer was smart phones, which can play music as well. Before somebody else could cannibalise Apple’s iPod; Apple decided to disrupt it with the launch of iPhones.
Leaders must overcome the Innovators Dilemma (as Clayton Christenson says) and must have the courage to take bold decisions even to disrupt your businesses and business models. Remember innovation is more discontinuous than continuous improvement.
4. Lead with Purpose
Great companies are purpose driven. Great leadership always start with a ‘why’ (in Simon Sinek’s language of Start With Why). If you want to grow your business, you have to move your people into thinking and achieving something big.
You need a Massive Transformative Purpose (or MTP in the language of Salim Ismail) to achieve something audacious (or BHAG: Big Hairy Audacious Goals: in the language of Collins and Porras). When everyone in the organisation is purpose driven (knowing the bigger impact they can make in this world or the Precession Effect in the language of Buckminster Fuller ), they become a cult force in creating and delivering exceptional value to their customers. When purpose is lost, the very soul of leadership is lost. If there is no why (Motive/Motivation), there is no action (Execution).
5. Facilitate Collaboration and Team Work
No company today can work in silos and deliver exceptional performance. The collective team work is essential to create something remarkable. In the current business landscape every value creation and value delivery process is the collaborative work of many competent people, specilaised experts and teams.
While dealing with everyday complexity and ambiguity, great leaders know how to put all the pieces of the jigsaw together. Leaders define the vision to their team and use their influence to get everyone on the same page. Getting a team to row in the same direction is critical to organizational success. As Elon Musk observed that every team member is a Vector having both magnitude and direction. If the direction is not aligned with other vectors, having the magnitude or potential as a team player does not result much in the output. In this context, the leader’s role includes: gaining agreements (strategic direction) from a bunch of disagreements (diversity of perspectives) from their team. Trust is the key element that binds the team together. Visionary leaders nurture trust. In an environment where everyone can be trusted for their competence, promise and intention, getting things done becomes easier and faster.
To make team work more effective, a leader must listen to his/her team members with empathy. They must develop better interpersonal skills of EQ over their IQ to understand and absorb their follower’s dreams and nightmares. Great leaders listen to their people without judgment and assumptions. They build rapport, develop strong bond and act as a chief team player to their group rather than a leader with a title.