A Great Leader paints an ABC vision – Appealing, Believable and Challenging.

You cannot expect your team to be enthusiastic and innovative if they do not know the direction in which they are headed. It is up to the leader to set the course and give a bearing for the future. This is set in broad terms and is described as the mission, core purpose or vision for the organisation. Although each of these is different they share much in common and whichever you choose, there should be one overarching statement which defines the direction for the business and which people will readily understand and remember.

Jack Welch, CEO of GE said:

‘Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.’

As a leader you don’t want happy, comfortable people in your team. You want passionate, energetic people who are keen for the journey and ready to take on a challenge. Your job is to communicate a destination and to persuade them it is a target that they can believe in and a goal worth reaching. You can then ask them how best to reach the destination. Once you have established a vision that is inspiring you can ask people to be creative and innovative in moving towards it.

The vision or mission is the starting point for strategic plans, objectives and metrics. The key performance indicators of the business will measure how progress is made in meeting the goals that flow from the vision. Striving for the vision will always involve change. It is a journey from where we are today to a better future. There is a risk in making the changes necessary on this journey but the leader has to persuade people that there is a bigger risk in standing still. The organizations that have no vision for the future and no desire to change are the ones destined for obscurity and obsolescence.

You must paint a vision that is appealing, believable and challenging. If you can do this then there are three big gains for the organization.

  1. First, people share a common goal and have a sense of embarking on a journey or adventure together. This means they are more willing to accept the changes, challenges and difficulties that any journey can entail.
  2. Secondly, it means that more responsibility can be delegated. Staff can be empowered and given more control over their work. Because they know the goal and direction in which they are headed they can be trusted to steer their own raft and to figure out the best way of getting there.
  3. Thirdly, people will be more creative and contribute more ideas if they know that there are unsolved challenges that lie ahead. They have bought into the adventure so they are more ready to find routes over and around the obstacles on the way.

Just painting the picture is not enough. It quickly fades from view if it is not constantly reinforced. Great leaders spend time with their teams. They illustrate the vision, the goals and the challenges. They explain to people how their role is crucial in fulfilling the vision and meeting the challenges. They inspire men and women to become passionate entrepreneurs finding innovative routes to success.

Based on a chapter in The Innovative Leader by Paul Sloane

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Paul Sloane is the author of many books on lateral thinking , creativity and innovation. He speaks and runs corporate master classes on these topics. He was formerly in Sales, Marketing and Executive positions with IBM and software companies.