Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fundamentals - Goals and Vision Part 1

We have mentioned that the goal is the first and most important element of all leadership. The goal, which is really a restatement of the vision of the leader into a specific aim point, is central, and all else flows from the goal. And the goal, the specific ‘aim-point,’ is the child of the leader’s vision. The two – the vision and the goal – must be viewed as opposite sides of the same thing. Remember, we are not talking about insipid ‘vision’ statements that use obscure and high-sounding but meaningless terms that confuse the members of the organization and leave to everyone wondering what’s next. The vision is just that, the image of the organization – in the future - that the leader has created. The goal (or goals) is (are) a specific mark that the leader has developed that represents a concrete element of his vision.

All real leaders have a vision. The vision can be fairly simple, but it has to be significant, it must point to a new reality. This is the problem with the so-called mission and vision statements that everyone has drawn up: they are often either not a vision of a new reality, or they simply aren’t significant. Don’t misunderstand me: this isn’t easy.

What is Vision?

So, what do we mean when we call for vision? Simply, it is when someone “sees” a future, a real picture – inside his head – of how the world, or, at least his corner of it, should look. Now, we all have images in our heads of how we would like things to look, we see ourselves on a large sailboat or in a castle in the south of France, even in the White House. But, a real vision isn’t about us, it’s about a new world around us. It’s about a better way of living, whether it’s a new way for people to move around – think of Henry Ford and the idea that everyone is going to own automobiles, or the guys at both Apple and Microsoft and the idea that everyone will have a computer. They “see” a new reality, and then they go about creating it.

Now, what is interesting is that these visions are usually marked by one of two boundaries: either bounded in scope or in scale. By that I mean that, whether it was the automobile or the personal computer, or any other specific vision, the leader, the visionary, didn’t try to control the vision. Ford didn’t try to see, and hence form, the vision much beyond the idea that everyone owns a car. He didn’t attempt to formulate or influence the oil industry or the gasoline distribution infrastructure, he didn’t try to create an interstate freeway system, he didn’t try to form any of the secondary industries that were the offspring of the automobile (motels, fast-food restaurants, the suburbs, etc., etc.), and arguably his vision was adjusted when GM became the first car company to offer financing, thus ensuring a continuous flow of money and assuring long term flows of money. Certainly, as those industries developed he was aware, took note of and adjusted his vision. In a similar way, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and all those guys, did not try to drive a vision that included E-Bay or the internet or real estate on line or medical records being passed from hospital to hospital by computer and thus saving lives, or all of the ‘dot Coms.’ They have both adjusted their product lines as these various industries have developed, but they focused on their own specific vision, and let the rest of the new reality develop around them.

Which leads to the first rule of visions: they must be bounded by scope. Even in politics, the vision must have boundaries. President Reagan wanted to end communism, he also wanted to recast the economic dialogue in terms of supply side economics, and while the two are linked in many ways, he moved forward on both, but kept each separate. Trying to manage both as an integrated whole would not only have raised the level of complexity beyond all understanding, it would have placed both at risk.

The second rule of vision is that you must be bound by scale, or complexity. Now, what I mean by that is complexity down, not up. Don’t get too mired in detail. Vision requires that you have a long-term picture, and a faith, a confidence that smaller obstacles will be addressed in time, dealt with and passed. The small obstacles must be dealt with, the vision can be adjusted along the margins, but don’t let the problems of today change the essence of that vision.

But, let me repeat, the vision is bound down, not up. Not only will getting mired in the details kill the vision, but making the vision too small, too simple will make the vision unsustainable. To fly, to make airplanes that can carry people around the planet, or a host of other things, these are issues that can stir a heart. And, these become visions that people can easily adopt as their own and support. It is the lesser issues which, in the end, are sometimes the most difficult to promote, and which can require the most out of the leader. But, if the Wright Brothers tried to resolve the issue of eminent domain and road networks to support airports, as part of their quest for flight, they’d never have made it out of Ohio.

Let me give you a few more examples: Leading a platoon of riflemen into a fire-fight, at least in a democracy, can be, in a very real sense, easy. That is because we all know that the reason we are fighting is not to satisfy the whim of a dictator. The reason that a young Marine picks up his weapon and charges into the building full of bad-guys is that he truly believes that he is defending freedom and making the world safer for those he loves, as well as fighting for his buddies. If you want to talk about self-actualization, there it is. In fact, the average Marine rifleman joined the Marines for that very reason, irrespective of what recruiters or senior officers might say to him about health-care benefits or retirement or whatever. That young Marine is functioning at the very top end of Maslow’s hierarchy. As a result, he often needs little in the way of leadership, once he’s been trained and pointed in the right direction. And that is also why a young Marine or Soldier, after he gets out of the Marines or Army, always looks back on his time in the service with such a sense of longing: because he reached something that every member of mankind seeks his entire life—self-actualization. He peaked and he knows it, at least sub-consciously. He was working to achieve something great, something truly beyond himself. Wow! He is, in the strictest of senses, a lucky man.

Another example is a fighter pilot. He not only is defending freedom, he gets to do it while being revered as one of the most romantic figures of modern time, and he does it while getting to strap-on a $50 million dollar airplane and race around the sky. Again, Wow!

On the other hand, how do we motivate someone to help you make a better hamburger? Or, more difficult still, not to make a better hamburger - it’s not a gourmet restaurant - but how about making a McDonald’s cheeseburger? I suggest that the motivational issue there is as difficult as it gets.

Let’s take a look at that problem: by way of example, McDonalds is a great organization, and I love their food. As one gourmet chef recently said, there are some things he doesn’t try to do because he feels they have already been perfected, and pointed at McDonalds French Fries as an example of something that is about as good as it gets. I agree.

But, look at what McDonalds says about themselves: they want to be the best quick service restaurants in the world and the best employer in any community in which they operate. Those are OK visions, But… The fact is that, for the average worker, that is pretty difficult to get fired up about. One of them isn’t even about you, you’re not the employer, you’re the employee. And, as for being the best quick service restaurant, does that really motivate? So, I would suggest that, for starters, the folks like McDonalds, particularly now that they are well into a period of sustainment, sustaining market share, increasing here and there, but not being able to benefit emotionally from a period of explosive growth, are going to need to come up with a new vision if they are going to survive.

Let me repeat that: they need a new vision or they will – in the long run – fail. Not that they are alone in this regard; this is a problem faced by every major (and minor) company today – GE, Apple, AT&T, Exxon – you name it.


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