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What the Windy City Taught Me About Visionary Leadership

Visionary Leadership is another one of those phrases we toss around like we’re all in agreement on what it means. For more years that I can remember, I've preached that every organization should have a clear vision. That vision typically starts with a leader, hence the term “Visionary Leadership.”

The question that often surfaces among those who oppose an organizational Vision is, why does it matter? The premise underlying this question is that the act of crafting a Vision is outdated, obsolete, so why bother? After all, don’t we all saunter into work each day eager to do the next best thing?

People offer me this argument because, to be honest, too many leaders craft a Vision Statement that winds up on a wall in some corridor or, worse yet, buried in some strategic plan stuck on an obscure conference room shelf. Even when the statement is clearly visible, few people know what it stands for or how it was created.

The result? Little to no buy-in.

I’m one of those individuals, however, who still happens to believe that a clearly stated Vision matters, and it matters a lot. It must, however, be developed by key stakeholders within the organization, and it must be clearly communicated throughout the organization.

Without a clear Vision, organizations, and the people in them, seem to slip into a level of confusion, and in some instances, chaos. It isn't always obvious at first glance, but without a clear Vision, I've personally witnessed people become overwhelmed, stagnant, frustrated, and even angry.

In my many travels as a business strategist, I have spoken and consulted in a variety of organizations. The importance of setting a clear Vision, however, was never more clearly demonstrated than at The Young Rembrandts’ Conference I spoke at last week in Chicago.

President and Founder Bette Fetter and her extraordinary team have set the bar for living out a Vision. Bette is also author of  Being Visual which discusses how to help visual learners succeed in school. Bette and her team have validated my contention that Visionary Leadership is vital to the health and well-being of every organization because a clearly defined Vision offers several key benefits:

 1. Clarity of Purpose

I've repeatedly spoken to the importance of having clarity of purpose. Vision produces that clarity.

Whenever I think of an organization, I like to think of the analogy of a ship. You know, the ones like the ancient mariners used to sail, tall masts and all.

Imagine one of those ancient mariners pulling a crew on board, setting sail, and then saying, “Not exactly sure where we’re sailing to or how long it will take to arrive. Let’s hope we have enough resources to get there.”

Really? Would you jump on board? Not likely. More likely than not, you’d be looking for a way to jump overboard and swim ashore.

Visionary leaders know where they are going before they set sail. “We’re sailing to that island to the north,”one leader might exclaim. While the route may differentiate depending on the weather or the obstacles that arise, when the captain knows the direction to set sail, the crew, the team, if you will, can redirect the strategy, as necessary, to get there.

What I witnessed in Bette and her team was quiet extraordinary. Her Vision for the organization not only translates into clarity of purpose for herself and her team, it also is the foundational fire underlying the growth of every single Young Rembrandts franchise across North America.

Vision produces clarity of purpose and purpose produces cohesiveness. Try saying that about 200 times.

2. Team Cohesiveness

Bette’s Vision has not only produced clarity of purpose, it has produced team cohesiveness at the highest level.

Here’s the deal. When leaders know where they are going and what they intend to accomplish along the way, there is little need for micromanagement. When people aren't micromanaged, several important things happen.

One, the leader is free to be more relational with her internal team. She empowers them to get the job done without imposing her particular style upon the gIn roup. When the team is empowered, they willingly live out the vision and values of the organization, they self-organize, and they work in more cohesive ways to generate an outcome that is meaningful.

From an internal perspective, then, cohesiveness Rembrandts' style means that every member of the team is prepared to live out their role within the organization. As the team organized for the first event of the conference, it was like watching a family come together for a joyous reunion. I silently wished that every organization I encountered understood the importance of this level of team work.

Two, a cohesive team also affords the leader the opportunity to be more approachable and accessible to her external customers, in this case the franchisees who attended the conference.

Internal cohesiveness therefore translates to external cohesiveness. With every member of the internal team knowing their part, conference attendees felt welcomed, nurtured, respected, cared for, and valued.

The outcome of this level of cohesiveness was an exhilarating and memorable experience for all involved, including me as the keynote speaker.

3. Meaningful Work Experience

One of the goals of a Visionary Leader should be to create a meaningful work experience for his team. Failure to do so only results in a revolving door of dissatisfied employees and a tremendous loss of time and money.

A meaningful work experience is an outcome that rises up from the Vision and the team’s ability to work in cohesive ways. This outcome produces passion which ignites a cycle of high productivity and extraordinary results.

People jumped on board The Young Rembrandts’ ship because Bette has a vision to “raise up generations that value the power, passion, and the significance of art.”

What this essentially means is that she is intentionally providing her franchisees with the necessary tools to help children “successfully learn and develop increased academic abilities.”

School systems across North America are embracing this Vision, and Bette’s team and her franchisees feel honored and privileged to be a part of this movement. People who enjoy a meaningful work experience are less likely to burn out. In Bette’s case, people aren't just building a franchise. They are changing lives. It doesn't get more meaningful than this.

4. Ambassadors

Whether you realize it or not, your business produces a cycle. The question is do you want it to be a cycle of growth or a cycle of destruction?

Let me reiterate just in case you missed it.

Vision produces clarity of purpose. With purpose come team cohesiveness and this, in turn, produces a meaningful work experience. When your team has this type of a positive experience on a regular basis, they become your most valued ambassadors.

People often think their most valued ambassadors are their customers. They should indeed be valued, but they are second to your employees.

Why? Because your employees talk about their work, your business, everywhere they go on almost a daily basis. Their spouses, their neighbors, their friends, their pastor, their car mechanic—virtually anyone who will listen hears about your business, how it works, and how much they either love or hate where they work.

For all the reasons I've stated above, Bette’s team loves where they work. So much so that she asked me to conduct a session with the team the evening before the conference to create a forum where they could reflect on personal goals and objectives.

“They do so much for the company,”Bette graciously stated. “I’d like them to have an opportunity to think about doing something for themselves.”

Dare I say, it was not an easy task to get them there when they are so dedicated to the work at hand.

If you’re in business or leading a team in any way, here are the questions I put before you:

Are you a Visionary Leader?

What more can you do to clarify your vision?

What more can you do to generate greater team cohesiveness?

Are you ensuring that your team is having a meaningful work experience?

Do you honor them as your most important asset?

Are you creating Ambassadors or Adversaries?

If your answers to the above questions are no or, at best, ambiguous, you may want to check out The Young Rembrandts’ website at www.youngrembrandts.com and see how a truly visionary leader raises the bar for us all.

Bette, are you hiring?

[reminder]

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. July 3, 2014