26 September 2023

Why this underrated leadership skill is so important

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Few people list having a vision as the most important skill for a leader to possess, yet John Eades* believes without it organisations can be mired in mediocrity.

Leadership, in many ways, is a journey of learning, refining, and applying a multitude of essential skills.

From the moment you embrace the responsibility to lead, you’re bound to this cycle whether you know it or not.

Skills like communication, coaching, accountability, and relationship-building show their importance quickly.

Others fly under the radar, like emotional intelligence, empathy, and positivity that most learn through the school of hard knocks.

As important as all these skills are to being a successful leader, there is one attribute that most people overlook and undervalue.

That skill is vision.

Typically, leaders overlook vision as a leadership skill for one of three reasons.

They assume people are born as visionary; they assume it’s only for executive leaders like chief executives.

Or they have simply never been taught how to develop a vision.

While these are common, none of these beliefs are helpful or true.

However, what we have found in our research is when leaders lack vision it limits results, reduces energy, and creates a culture that struggles to embrace change.

I define leadership as inspiring, empowering, and serving in order to elevate others over an extended period of time.

I want to emphasise “over an extended period of time.”

It is extremely difficult to create an improved state over a long time without first delivering a vision of a vastly better future than exists today.

The best leaders are visionaries.

They have in view what is possible in the future.

They rarely know precisely how their team or organisation will get there, but that’s what elite execution is for.

The late Bahamian evangelist, Myles Munroe used to say: “Vision is the capacity to see beyond what your eyes can see.”

While this may sound funny, your eyes are actually the enemy of you becoming a better visionary leader.

This is because they are limited to what you can physically take in.

In 1961 United States President, John F.

Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time.

While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA.

The janitor replied: “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

The janitor got it.

He understood NASA’s vision and his part in it even though most others would say he was just mopping the floors.

In modern times, there is no better example of a visionary leader than Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX.

While astronauts have ventured into space for decades, Musk and his team at SpaceX are fervently working on space travel for the citizen population.

Musk set out a beautiful and bold vision for his team: “We are going to land people on Mars by 2025.”

Imagine coming to work every single day working to put human beings on Mars.

You don’t have to be the President of the United States, a janitor, or a tech titan to have a vision people can get behind.

While it is true, some people may have an easier time thinking in the future tense, every single person can develop a vision and learn to see beyond what is right in front of them.

Here is how I coach leaders to lean into their vision.

It starts by asking these questions.

What does the future look like?

What is happening on the team or in the company?

How many people are joining you on the journey?

What kinds of people?

What is the celebration going to look like?

How are you going to feel when it happens?

How is your team going to react?

What is your family going to say?

How will the world be different?

How will the lives of the people you touch in the process be different?

Here is something I learnt from one of the best visionary leaders I have watched speak, Chief Executive of the United States Golf Association, Mike Whan.

Whan puts his vision into action by calling it “Big Bold Leadership Initiatives”.

Here is the exercise to come up with your own Big Bold Leadership Initiatives.

Find yourself a quiet place; put on some inspiring music, close your eyes, and envision big, bold possibilities in the future.

If you need to, ask yourself the questions from above.

Regardless of what comes to mind, write them down.

Do this exercise at the rhythm and cadence that you require.

The more often you do it, the more comfortable you will get.

You always know you are becoming a visionary leader when you communicate these big bold leadership initiatives and you hear people say: “No way, that is just not possible.”

*John Eades is the Chief Executive of LearnLoft a leadership development company. He can be contacted at johneades.com.

This article first appeared at johneades.com.

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