Relentless Attention to Vision: a Charge to Entrepreneurs and Leaders

Vision plays out in a specific context and via a specific organization, under the auspices of a specific leadership configuration. Context is messy. Organizations are complex. Leaders are not perfect in judgment or execution.  Combined, these forces collude, often unintentionally, to prevent vision from finding its way.

This is why we must be relentless with vision.


How about some additional words and phrases to drive the point home?

Bull-dogged Dug-in Stick to the knitting Un-fazed Chained to it Persistent Geeked-up Our North Star Anchored Fuzed

Without the courage to consistently return to vision, to draw upon it, to let it open and shut the gate to what you will do next and defend the why of a thing, the vision disappears. We will think we remember something about a vision we once developed, but it will cease to operate as the leading light.

This is why we work through complexity to express vision in the starkest terms possible. It helps us sort the the messy context, the complexity of developing an organization and the inconsistent waffling of being human. Entrepreneurs, especially when completing original business plans, need to develop clarity of vision and the disipline to use it. CEOs, especially because they move in and among all of an organization's components and constituencies, must be absolutely relentless about communicating and holding to vision--even if it means not doing other important things.

Perhaps you have heard someone talk about the traps leaders sometimes fall into, making use of the ready--aim--fire metaphor, and describing some leaders as "ready-fire-aim" or "ready-aim-aim-aim." What this post intends to convey is that whether steady, all too ready, or stuck in an eddy, a leader with a commitment to be relentless about vision puts on clean glasses before they ever pick up the gun.

The Need for Speed

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” –Deut. 31:7-9

When Jim Collins wrote his seminal work on what makes a good company great, he stumbled upon a key ingredient: having a Level 5 leader at the helm. He describes a Level 5 leader as someone who possesses both humility and professional will or courage. There was also a recent article in Harvard Business Review that said that great leaders have to be fast in their decision-making, particularly when they know the right thing to do.

So how do these two ideas connect?

One of the ways to increase speed is through demonstrated personal courage. What often slows decision-making down is a desire to not “ruffle any feathers” or to give “more grace” to people or more time to business units that are not performing. It’s being slow in making the decisions you know are the right ones, but delaying them because the consequences feel risky. The worst thing a leader can do is to hope that the wrong road, wrong strategy or wrong person will somehow lead to the right one. Confidence in the right road and strategy will allow clarity on tough decisions and therefore, can be made with less hesitation.

Why do you think Joshua was told to “be strong and courageous”? We read the passage above and gloss over the fact that Joshua was responsible for dividing the land among the tribes. It seems like this act would be fraught with conflict and tribal leaders jockeying for position to get the biggest and most fertile territories.

So how do we, as leaders, demonstrate personal courage in the face of a difficult decision or a potential conflict?

  1. Don’t allow lag time. Once you know something needs to be done, don’t allow unnecessary time between the decision and the action that needs to occur. Leaders often allow too much time between knowing and doing which does not benefit the people involved or the future of the organization.
  2. Start with the end in mind. Ask yourself: “Where are we headed, how are we going to get there and how does this decision affect that outcome?”
  3. Prepare for the conversation. Prior to discussion, reflect on how the decision was made, who was consulted, what process was used and what other options were considered
  4. Be direct, yet compassionate. Make sure that your non-verbal cues aren’t different from what you are saying. In addition, share the decision in a fact-based and clear manner so there is no confusion. Explain why the decision is in the best interest of the company while showing care and compassion for the impact it will have on those affected.
  5. Explain how the decision was made. It’s important to share the process that was followed, the people consulted and the steps taken to reach the final decision.
  6. Allow for feedback. Make sure people have an opportunity to share concerns and feelings, but also make it clear that the decision is not open to debate.
  7. Focus on the future. Reiterate how the decision will position the organization for greater health and growth moving forward.

Level 5 leaders resemble Joshua who knew the direction and strategy while having the conviction and courage to act quickly. Describe what holds you back from this kind of decision-making?

Four Agreements

One of my Perfect Year intentions is to reread a handful of books that were (and still are) very meaningful and significant to me. The one I just finished reading is The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. The lessons from this book are amazingly insightful and powerful. The following is an overview of the meaning of each of The Four Agreements based on the book. File under “how to live unfettered.”

Be Impeccable with Your Word

Speak with integrity.  Say only what you mean.  Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.  Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Impeccable means not speaking against yourself, to yourself or to others.  It means not rejecting yourself.  To be impeccable means to take responsibility for yourself, to not participate in “the blame game.” What you put out energetically in your word will return to you.

Don’t Take Anything Personally

Nothing others do is because of you.  What others say and do is a projection of their own thoughts.  When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

We take things personally when we agree with what others have said.  If we didn’t agree, the things that others say would not affect us emotionally.  If we did not care about what others think about us, their words or behavior could not affect us. Remember — it is not about you!  Others’ actions and words are based on what they believe and their belief system.

Don’t Make Assumptions

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want.  Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.  With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

When we make assumptions it is because we believe we know what others are thinking and feeling.  We believe we know their point of view, their story.  We forget that our beliefs are just our point of view based on our belief system and personal experiences and have nothing to do with what others think and feel. Stop expecting the people around you to know what is in your head.

Always Do Your Best

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.  Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret. 

Doing your best means enjoying the action without expecting a reward.  Enjoy the path traveled and the destination will take care of itself. Live in the moment, be fully alive right now. If you do your best always, transformation will happen as a natural outcome.

The Selling CEO

Over the years I have worked with many CEO’s and the best ones fully understand their role as The Selling CEO. This article is written for the rest of you. The CEO of any organization is not only the Chief Executive Officer but the CSO or Chief Selling Officer. As the CEO he or she must sell their vision, mission and values along with their products or services. In fact they are in a constant state of selling; ideas, proposals, concepts, projects, etc. Whether it is to their executive team, their front line employees, their board or their banker they need to be champions of sales.

It all starts with the person. In Tom Stanley’s book; The Millionaire Mind he states that all self-made millionaires have four common characteristics; integrity, discipline, good interpersonal skills and finally courage. Although courage is not on the list with the first three, he does say in later chapters that most of these individuals will be found in church on Sunday, thus their Spiritual connection gives them courage. I am reminded of Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

I believe the CEO too must possess these qualities. Integrity being the key to any selling situation, always doing what’s in the best interest of employees and customers. “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.” Proverbs 2:6-8

The next critical element for every selling CEO, or any sales professional for that matter, is understanding your “why”. Most people in either position understand what they do, they can generally explain how they do it but rarely do they understand the why of their products or services. A CEO must sell from their “why”, not the “what” or “how”. Ask yourself, why does my company exist in the eye of my customers? What difference do we make in the marketplace, in the world for that matter? The best example of this is Apple, they truly understand their “why”, which fuels their success! To explore this concept further I suggest reading both Start with Why by Simon Sinek and It’s Not What You Sell but What You Stand For by Roy M. Spence, Jr.

Moving on as the Selling CEO you must have a compelling vision for your organization. We are all familiar with the verse in Proverbs 29:18B, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” A passionate leader with a clear vision will inspire “sell” other to excel.

I won’t spend much time on mission because that ties back to your “why”. I do want to close this article with “values”. Values are the anchor for any organization, they will guide each individual in the organization on how they respond to customer service issues, quality focus and frankly every action and interaction in the company. The Selling CEO must have a strong set of core values, these values translate to the company’s values, which serve as a moral compass or guide for everyone.

In my 30 plus years as a sales professional as well as a trusted advisor to executives and CEO’s I learned that without these fundamentals, the Selling CEO will fall short. Live with integrity, courage, discipline, abnd develop your interpersonal skills. Understand your “why”, develop a compelling vision and set a strong set of values that act as a compass to all concerned. Remember every CEO is a Selling CEO.


Simplifying Complex Strategies So You Can Move Mountains

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”― Steve Jobs

Our world is increasing in complexity each day. Customer expectations are rising, social media creates greater risk but also potential reward, disruptive technologies are changing the face of industries, and innovators are likely planning something new right now to take business from you. Old business models are losing ground to business-model innovators, and government regulations are creating overload on already-burdened businesses. Sound familiar?

This battle with complexity and overload can be a curse or a blessing. Many businesses will be on life support soon or die. Others will courageously do what’s needed to simplify and thrive.

In this environment, many people try to ignore the changes needed, feel overwhelmed, hunker down, and stay in their comfort zone. Others choose to battle complexity head on with courage, perspective, and diligence. Which better describes your company culture?

While not easy, it’s a great time to be a business leader who trusts in God and works ON the business with other high-capacity leaders.

God commends us to gain wisdom, understanding, and strength from others:

"By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
The wise prevail through great power, and those who have knowledge muster their strength. Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers." Proverbs 24:3-6 NIV

To help you and your leadership team simplify your strategy and move mountains, check out this 3 minute video from the Harvard Business Review. Donald Sull is Professor of Management Practice at the London Business School, and a global expert on managing in turbulent markets.