Insight and vision - this is the stuff of great leaders. We can all bring to mind leaders who had great visions they effectively shared with their organizations, enabling success (sometimes despite other leadership short-comings). Why is this the case? How can a leader, who may be ineffective at supporting people consistently be very effective at communicating vision and insight, managing to make a whole enterprise successful? Likely it is because the number one motivator for many employees is providing meaningful work. When you have a clear and well articulated vision you are in a position to provide others with opportunities to be valuable, and know it. This translates into more discretionary effort and high productivity for an organization.
Motivating others to bring their best work forward is a huge component of leadership. This takes insight, an understanding of what needs to be done and how to accomplish it through others. Sharing insight brings a level of distributed understanding that people find incredibly energizing. When that energy is present it means individuals understand the bigger picture, they can see how they, their team, and/or the organization as a whole, will get from “here” to “there” and what marks success (which includes integrity, ethics and quality). But without out meaning none of this takes hold, so a leader also has to help people see (from their individual perspective) how they contribute value, which is the cornerstone of meaningful work.
A lot of time and energy is spent by organizations on mission and vision statements for this reason. However, these artifacts can quickly become demotivating if the leaders in your organization are not exemplifying them by leading by example and keeping others appraised of progress and outcomes that tie back to mission and vision. You have to keep using these items in a multifaceted and authentic way to make relevant the many iterations of your strategic plan, allowing others to follow your organizations’ evolution. If your vision is too narrow it is achieved quickly and loses value. If it is too big it feels like you are on a treadmill where no matter how fast you run you never get there. Balance is key, mixed with a bit of creativity. There are many great vision statements out there. My all time favourite is from Steve Jobs who said “We are here to put a dent in the universe”. Powerful, simple and (as it turned out) achievable, but he may have been the only leader who could make that vision happen for his organization, reinforcing the need for it to be authentic.
Another tool needed when imparting insight is transparency. While Jobs had a vision, he did not have a clear 20-year map of how Apple was going to get “there” and there was a lot of trial and error along the way. The road wasn’t smooth or sometimes even apparent, and Jobs was not the easiest leader to work for. However, he had an unwavering belief in what they were doing and year after year millions tuned in to hear him speak, curious about the next iteration of Apple products. He never failed to impress (even if the products sometimes did) he always tied it back to making something that had never been done before, on that he didn’t waver. Apple made its dent.
Do you need to be Steve Jobs to bring this level of motivation to your workforce? No, going back to authenticity everyone with the capacity to exhibit leadership skills needs to find their own way to do it. Transparency, great listening skills and the ability to articulate a meaningful and shared vision are key. Trial and error are part of this and an understanding when something is working (and when it is not); in other words, self-awareness (for you and your organization). Here is a check for you – do you have a plaque up in your workplace with your mission and vision statements on it? Look to see if it has dust lining the top of it; if it does maybe it is time to check how well this is being used at your company. Insight and vision only work when they are relevant.
Do you need a title to impart insight and help motivate others? No, you need to have a vision for your self, your work, your project or your team and use that to support the leadership activities that are present. You can motivate people; encourage them to think differently or enable them to question things when they do not make sense. This is everyone’s role in an organization, not just “managements” and if you are doing it with a high degree of self-awareness and keen listening skills there is room for everyone to exercise their own brand of leadership without there being “too many chefs in the kitchen”. You also don’t need to be charismatic or a great public speaker; quiet people provide huge value in a world where people don’t stop talking (to paraphrase Susan Cain Quiet: The Power of Introverts). Introverts provide a perspective that is often far more reflective, revealing deep truths about how teams or organizations are choosing to pursue work. You do not need to be the loudest voice in the room; you need only exercise your voice when it counts.
In a nutshell leadership insight is the ability to inspire others to achieve things above and beyond what they thought they could do – starting with you.