What’s your leadership philosophy? On paper, it seems easy to say you’re committed to fairness, profitability and something to do with sustainability. The workday, however, can feel like an unending battle between long-range vision and a stacked to-do list. When we stray from the habits of visionary leaders, our work becomes fraught with indecision, suffers from wishy-washy direction, and is weighed down by unnecessary baggage due to lackluster communication.
Despite that push and pull, your leadership philosophy is essential to guiding your work every day. It is your North star, the keel that keeps you upright, the rudder with which you steer, the boundaries in which you work … and live. With so much distress about today’s workforce in the news, it’s time to pull off the blindfold and take the lead. Use these 7 habits of visionary leaders to detail your goals and gain the confidence of your team.
1. Make Your Strategy Actionable
Nothing disintegrates a compelling vision more quickly than a leader who doesn’t walk the talk. Similarly, nothing cements an organizational vision like a leader who aligns their behavior and language while rewarding the behavior of others.
Identify the 3-5 critical success factors needed to achieve the vision.
Let these guide your strategy and create action items to move forward. A few examples of these factors include money/funding; staff or volunteers; an engaged community that connects you to larger opportunities; and the desired impact of an initiative. Once you understand where you’re going, how you get there becomes very clear.
2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The leader is the chief representative of vision and strategy. You must be an artful and constant communicator outside the organization, across the organization, and directly to staff. A mentor taught me that your message is only beginning to get through when you are exhausted communicating it.
3. Acknowledge How Feelings Affect Your Goals
As an engineer who became a leader, I naturally gravitated to data and strategy. Consequently, my biggest realization was appreciating that all work is inherently human and humans function on feelings, not data.
Staff should “feel” their role in the vision.
We frequently assume that staff “just gets” the big picture. Experience tells me that is rarely true. Staff need support to explicitly understand where their work fits within the organization and vision. With that knowledge, their work is grounded in relevance and they feel more fully a part of the organization. Ask your team these questions to get an idea of how well you’re communicating your vision:
- Do people feel good about their contributions?
- Is there fun at work?
- Is there humanness and caring at work?
- How do people feel when interacting with leadership?
- Do essential employees (janitorial staff, cashiers in the cafeteria, waiters) feel seen and valued?
4. Strive for Transparent Interactions with Staff
Staff don’t have to agree with your decisions, but it helps if they understand your thought process and considerations. Inevitably, leaders have more information and factors to consider than staff realize. Transparency into your decision-making process broadens understanding and creates trust. Of course, not all the reasons can be disclosed, but the more transparent you are about small decisions, the more likely they will trust you with the big ones that have details which shouldn’t be disclosed.
Transparency requires immediate, constructive feedback and strives for fairness.
Research shows that the best performance motivator is immediate, informal feedback on performance or behavior. Give specific, useful feedback in as close to real-time as is feasible. Our brains like fairness, but the workplace doesn’t always deliver. To balance this, consider the individual, their circumstances, past performance, and the context of a specific situation.
5. Have High Expectations
Expect top quality performance of yourself and staff — but do NOT confuse this for burning long hours. Rectify consistently poor performance and be willing to terminate if needed. Even as a government leader, I terminated employment for several staff members. It was a long, slow process with many loopholes and most managers wanted to avoid. Once, I was asked, “Aren’t you afraid people won’t want to work for you?” My response was clear, “You’re right. The poor performers don’t want to work here, but top performers do.”
Support and reward the behavior you seek.
What can you do to support your staff’s professional development and what can you do to support their current work? Ask them. Be crystal clear on how the behavior that supports your culture, its tone and the vision for your organization. Watch for it, recognize it and reward it — visibly and vocally. And don’t forget to say “thank you.”
6. Be Thoughtful and Focused
Some of the most visionary, compelling leaders I worked with made time to think and reflect. I call it taking a brain break. How do you take a brain break and ensure that you have that thoughtful time? It’s easy to be pulled in a thousand directions at once.
Being busy is not the same as being important.
As a leader, focus is key. You need clarity on the important work when the urgent work strives to derail your attention. Guard the time to work on the important activities for you and your staff. Prioritize ruthlessly. Stick with the priorities.
7. Share Control
Our brains feel comfortable when they have control. Consequently, you will be uncomfortable as you encourage your staff to take control over their work. The biggest problems I’ve had with giving control to staff stemmed from my lack of clarity about expectations and priorities. With that realization, I stepped back and realigned my actions to pursue the most critical success factor of my vision: developing a supportive work environment that prioritizes employee growth.