I wrote Management Mess for those who feel they weren’t perfectly groomed for leadership—those with a bit of a “mess” in them, whether that comes from being an outsider, a lack of experience, a lack of training, or all of the above. There are likely people I know who think I’m the last person who should write a book like this, probably a few people reading it right now. So I’ll get this next part out of the way:
I have an intense personality that’s often turned up to 11. I’ve been mean, petty, selfish, and self-absorbed. I’ve made genuinely good people cry, no doubt caused talented associates to choose to leave the organization and, regrettably, used my position and temper to sometimes belittle, demean, and stifle the contributions of others. But I’m also known as the leader whose division you join if you want your career and skills to blossom. I’m a close friend to many, and I’m the guy you call at any hour to bail you out of jail, a bind, or any other emergency. I’m also the guy who keeps a chilled bottle of champagne ready to pour for impromptu houseguests. I am an honorable husband and a nurturing father; a champion, supporter, and mentor to countless people who have experienced extraordinary success in their careers. I have a handful of God-given abilities I work hard to use and magnify (humility is not one of them). I am, in short, a human being: I have flaws and talents; failures and triumphs.
If you’re a fellow traveler along the leadership path, I’ve written this book for you. It’s a reflection of my experiences, both messes and successes, run through the crucible of the real world—shaped, validated, and often corrected by the deep expertise and thought leadership of many colleagues, friends, and mentors. So, even as I careened and sometimes crashed through the ranks, I couldn’t help but pick up on the principles and practices that the most successful leaders get right. These proven insights (many of which are included in this book) helped an admittedly imperfect leader rise to the C-suite.
The challenges in this book will make you a better leader. Let’s explore Challenge 22 from the book together: Create Vision.
In modern history, Walt Disney has been one of the most brilliant business leaders at creating and communicating a vision.
Celebration, the Disney Development Company’s master-planned community, is a superb example. It was the fulfillment of Walt’s dream, partially achieved through EPCOT Center, at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I happen to know its story well, as I was one of the founding team members on the project from 1992 to 1996. In a few short years, Disney transformed 10 square miles of open land and cow pasture into one of the most innovative towns in the world. Celebration showcased a first-of-its-kind public/private school, a collection of retail stores, homes and apartments, a progressive hospital, and office buildings designed by many of the world’s premier architects. The town offers state-of-the-art technology supporting a lifestyle described by some as “where The Jetsons meets Mayberry.”
Celebration isn’t perfect, of course, but that’s not the point. All of it was inspired by one person’s vision—someone I assume most of the team members had never met. That was the power of Walt Disney’s vision; a dream he communicated with passion, clarity, and consistency.
My experience working at Disney taught me that creating a bold vision is often uncomfortable. It can be both inspiring and a real stretch. Personally, I’ve always excelled at creating vision, and count it as one of my most valuable leadership strengths. And I’m not just talking about having a vision—that’s not the name of this challenge. Leaders create vision until it’s shared by their teams and colleagues. They depict a vision so clear and aligned to the organizational mission and goals that anyone could communicate it in thirty seconds or less.
Conventional learning theory suggests that individuals are either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners. I actually believe that, unless you have a sight impairment, everyone is a visual learner. Nobody ever secured a construction loan without a blueprint, and the same applies to leaders. Whether you use PowerPoint, pictures, models, or storyboards, creating vision requires others to see it. And because you can’t climb into someone’s head and know if they see (and understand) your vision, you must ensure that people can articulate it. I’ll ask my colleagues and team members to do just that—repeat back to me the vision I just shared. Often they’ll bring something new to it as they do. And that’s great, because creating a vision is often a group endeavor.
In my previous role as chief marketing officer, I was responsible for creating a compelling vision around numerous events and initiatives, including Facilitator Enhancement Day (or FED). This event allowed our client facilitators (more than five thousand certified every year) to increase their business acumen, network, and improve their facilitation skills. Every year, our team created a compelling marketing campaign with a theme, website, email strategies, and print invitations to support the FED. We completed this long list of tasks nearly a year before the event so client partners could communicate the experience to their customers. The fact that the collateral had been designed and distributed before the agenda was locked would frustrate other areas of the business: “How can you sell something before you create it?” they would ask. The answer was simple: When you can create and articulate a powerful vision, you’ve improved the likelihood that it will come to fruition. This happens all the time, such as in the movie industry, where marketing teams create a trailer while the production process is still going on. It’s common for a film to be in final editing literally days before it arrives at your local theater.
The mistake is assuming that your work is done after you create that powerful vision. You may be familiar with the recent debacle of the Fyre Festival. The organizers created a masterful vision of an exclusive, high-end music festival on a secluded Caribbean island, with beautiful people, live bands, and luxury boats in turquoise water. The festival organizers paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to “influencers” to share the vision through social media.
The only problem was that the vision was completely disconnected from reality.
When attendees to the sold-out event arrived, they discovered repurposed hurricane tents instead of luxury villas, and cheese sandwiches instead of gourmet catering. The event collapsed into a chaotic rush as attendees tried to flee the island. Truly, a great vision isn’t enough.
Effective leaders structure a vision, implement it, and bring it to life. At a high level, creating a vision means defining where your team is going and how they will get there. Notice the “how” part. It’s not unusual for a leader, after a grand pronouncement, to sit back and assume their vision will happen. In truth, many bold strategies never reach liftoff because team members were either confused, uninspired, or had a “this too shall pass” attitude.
Creating a vision, effectively communicating it, and translating it into daily behaviors requires many talents. The good news is that they’re learnable:
- Adapt your message to the culture. Are you speaking the same language as your audience? Are you using terms everyone understands? Can others see themselves in the message?
- Craft a vision that is within reach. A bold aspiration to colonize Mars in two years sounds dumb. Calibrate your vision so that people need to stretch—perhaps significantly—but can still win. The vision must be accomplishable.
- Articulate and repeat the vision at every appropriate opportunity. Do this until you’ve communicated the vision so many times, you can’t stand to hear it yourself. Even when you’re fatigued by your own vision, you’re likely 50 percent of the way there. Don’t make the fatal mistake of believing just because it’s clear in your mind, it’s clear in the minds of others. Vision becomes a reality with relentless pursuit and relentless communication.
- Create ambassadors. Gather colleagues to communicate your vision, ensuring they understand. Don’t patronize them, but have them repeat it back to you. Have them ask questions, push on you, think of all the what-ifs. The more your ambassadors understand, the more likely they’ll become faithful translators and champions. Consider recording yourself via video and audio, and also articulating your vision in writing so everyone understands it point by point.
Some of this advice may seem pedantic, but the goal is to reinforce the reality that no leader has ever overcommunicated an inspiring vision. Worthy aspirational projects and initiatives typically fail because leadership wrongly thought they had been sufficiently translated throughout the team or organization. Or in some cases, they lost interest themselves.
From Mess to Success: Create Vision
- Draft a team vision by answering these questions:
- What contributions can our team make to the organization’s mission and vision?
- If our team could make one extraordinary contribution over the next one to five years, what would it be?
- Take a moment to remember an inspiring vision that resonated with you. What about it made it personally motivating and powerful?
- Create a vision for your team by articulating not only the why and the what, but the how. The how may well be the key that brings it to success.
Published with permission from Mango Publishing.
Management Mess comes out June 18. For more information, visit www.managementmess.com.
Photo by @shannonfieldsphoto via Twenty20