Friday, November 12, 2010

A Leader Requires Vision

A leader needs a vision, along with goals to achieve. How does a leader come by those goals? Are they set out for them? Are they something defined by the leader? Or are they a group effort, with a culmination of ideas leading to a solid goal with steps laid out for achievement?

The honest answer is all of the above. I am the President of the company's Toastmaster Club, and the goals for the club are pretty much set-up by Toastmasters International (TMI). TMI has a program called the Distinguished Club Program, which is a series of 10 goals that a club is expected to aim for. If you get 5 goals, the club is Distinguished. 7 Goals gets the club Select Distinguished, and 10 Goals makes the club Presidential Distinguished. Since the corporate club is only a little over a year, and needed that year to get it's footing, I am shooting for 5 goals. Usually, a President should probably have the club shoot for 10 of 10, but in this case, the club doesn't have anyone ready for the advanced awards. It will be a struggle to get the lower level awards certified before June. In a manner of speaking, those lower level awards are the stretch goals. But as the leader for that group I have a vision: the InNOVators Toastmaster Club will be Distinguished this year.

To pull back to a different time, when I was a tank platoon leader in Iraq, there were goals for the leaders. Each mission had a specific objective, so each mission was a goal. But those missions didn't coalesce into a vision. My vision was simple, get everybody home safe. A tough vision in a war zone, but I was responsible for 16 guys (counting myself), and I know how much it would have hurt me to leave Iraq without all of them. So what goals did I have to set to accomplish this. Largely, the goal was to be tactically and technically perfect (or as close to it as possible). It also meant responding with force in a lot of difficult situations where others might have hesitated. However, within several months of taking over the platoon, my platoon had a reputation as one you didn't mess with. The reputation got so strong that after 6 months, we weren't attacked with IEDs or fired upon anymore. Our tanks would roll through ambush points without being touched. The regrettable thing was that other platoons and convoys would get hit 5 minutes later. I don't know for sure if it was our reputation that made them wait, or it was just the way life works, but it still sits heavy on my conscious. However, I can't complain too much, all my men came home safe (I wish I could say the same for all the soldiers I knew in country).

The last question is probably the best situation for a leader. Many books, groups and people talk about the selfless leader, and I would imagine that it is that person who is able to go to his team and say "What can we accomplish this year?" and expect an answer that isn't lazy, or the easy targets. I rarely have the opportunity to work in a group like this. More often I find myself in charge of a group that needs drive and direction. Perhaps that is a personal flaw? I often wonder if I am not giving my people enough opportunity to sink or swim. I would love to have a meeting where a brainstorming session not only sets up the vision for the group, but also the goals necessary to achieve that vision. Perhaps I need to concentrate more on getting the right people "on the bus," to steal a concept from Jim Collins. Then the team could have that moment.

So, then the question is... how do you find vision for your teams? How do you Conceive it?

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