Oct 302022

Too often, people in positions of power believe that they are true leaders. It simply is not true, especially in companies where employees have a broad range of options. Influence through the implied threat of salary control or employment ejection only gains compliance, not the influence that makes greatness possible.

Leadership requires inspiration, initiative, vision, optimism, competence, confidence, and fairness in equal parts. Notice that a leader doesn’t have to be likable, approachable, or even a good coach, although these aspects help. While all aspects matter, it all starts with a vision.

I believe the two goals of leadership are to
(1) get your team working on the same goal, the right goal, with great teamwork, and
(2) convince members to do their best work and to put in their best effort into a project.

These goals are easier at the start of any new venture or mission. Later on, when the initial strategies and tactics stumble, when the initial vision fails to create the desired outcomes, a leader will be tested: these are the moments that separate the great ones from the rest. Will the leader successfully pivot to a new vision, inspire his or her team anew, and instill confidence that the new strategy and tactics will be the ones that lead to success?

This is why we see huge turnover of head coaches at the top of sports teams. When the going gets tough, when people start questioning their competence, confidence, and vision, can they survive the test that requires flexibility, adaptability, and leadership. One of my personal favorites, Juergen Klopp, is having this test right now at Liverpool.

I learned a painful lesson more than a decade ago: People will stop buying in to you, if you stop having a crystal clear vision and supporting high level plan. Over seven years, we had gone through Plan A, pivoted to Plan B, and tried Plan C, but then admitted to not having Plan D in the face of massive industry changes. Would you care to guess what happened next? While the three strike rule was undoubtedly a factor in my case, any vision is better than no vision. You must communicate your vision in a compelling fashion 24/7.

This lesson applies to every manager at every company, not just head coaches in the Premier League or the NFL. Take a simple self-assessment:

  • Do you have a clear vision?
  • Are you taking the initiative to make it happen?
  • Does it inspire your people?
  • Do they know it well and tell others without stumbling or hesitation?
  • Do you lead by example?
  • Is each member of your team putting in his or her best enthusiastic effort in years?
  • Is everyone on the same page, focused on the same goal?

If not, you better get busy or your “leadership” position may not last as long as you hope. Your team is either growing or dying, there is no path to happiness if you only seek to maintain the status quo.

By the way, I’ve observed over the years that you do not have to be the ‘appointed leader’ in corporate settings to be a leader. Many of the appointed are just managing, not inspiring. Leadership is influence, pure and simple. It is more than possible to inspire your colleagues with vision, belief, competence, and confidence in equal parts.

Why not be optimistic and start selling your vision today? Fortune favors the bold.

I.M. Optimisman