Thursday, August 26, 2010

Are You a Visionary Leader?

Recently a client asked me to prepare a presentation on visionary leadership. Hopefully by now my regular readers will know that I strongly advocate that leaders work with their employees to create a vision and set challenging expectations for each individual in support of that vision.

Now, I do admit to being a little spoiled here. Between reporting to a series of presidents who spoke limited English, to owning my own firm; I haven’t had close supervision in a very long time. And, I will admit that there are times (like when training someone new) when close supervision is a really good thing. But after that, if people know what you expect and are bought into your vision, micromanagement will only serve to encourage them to limit taking ownership of their work.

At one end of the spectrum, Netflix has established themselves as the master of a no policy workforce. Being in a creative industry where the opportunity for damage due to the quality of their products is limited, they have taken visionary leadership to a new level. Netflix does not have a policy for vacation time. Their entertainment and business travel expense policy is simple: ”Act in Netflix’s best interest.” But my favorite is this comment on their dress code:

“There is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one has come to work naked lately.”

We’ve all heard the horror stories of the leaders that slow progress and frustrate their employees by reviewing every minor decision. Does this sound like you? If you are a control freak who needs to be involved, then identify the key things that are most important to your business, like product innovation, service quality, or quantity produced. Get your employees excited about your vision for those areas and leave the rest up to them. There’s a good chance that they will come up with suggestions for doing things better, faster, and will have more fun along the way. Process improvements can be a really great thing – and they rarely come from the top down, but rather the bottom up.

Visionary leaders focus on the big picture and the end results. They trust their staffs to handle the details. If you are a leader who can’t trust your staff to come to work wearing clothes, then you don’t have the right staff.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

- Antonie De Saint-Exupery

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