The Two Critical Success Factors for Inspiring Leadership

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

To get the best from your team, you need to be inspiring.

Creating and communicating a vision helps your team move together in the same direction. But that’s not enough. You also need to get stuff done, both individually and via the team(s) you lead.

The two critical success factors for inspiring leadership are having Clarity of Vision and the Ability to Execute. Read below to locate yourself on the Vision/Execution Matrix, and for tips on how to become an even more inspiring leader.

Locating yourself

We are all on a leadership journey. Early in my career, I didn't even understand the difference between leadership and management. I read Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, and the following metaphor about the difference has stuck with me ever since. Imagine a team of people working together to cut a path through a jungle. The workers are hacking vines with machetes, cutting the path. A manager stands behind the workers, sharpening machetes, ensuring workers are taking breaks, and are well-rested. A leader climbs a tree and says "we need to cut a path in THAT direction". Even if they might be wrong. You can locate where you are on Leadership (Clarity of Vision) and Management (Ability to Execute) using the Vision/Execution Matrix.

The Follower/Victim

If you have no clarity of vision and no ability to execute, you are a Follower/Victim. You wait for things to happen to you, and then you respond. I would argue that you do not want this to be your brand as a leader. Of course, you can respond to new and unexpected opportunities; you just don’t want that to be your only approach for achieving success.

The Wishful Do-er

If you have no clarity of vision, but you have a great ability to execute, you’re the Wishful Do-er. You can be so efficient that you impress everyone with your speed and vigor in getting things done. The problem is that if you aren’t doing things that matter, then you’re just efficiently going in circles.

The Dreamer

If you have clarity of vision but no ability to execute, you are the Dreamer. You might have excellent ideas, but you can’t execute. We all know someone like this: they talk a big game but can’t get anything done.

The Inspiring Leader

What you want to aim for and continually make progress toward is having both clarity of vision and the ability to execute. Here you become the Inspiring Leader. You have a plan, even if it’s uncertain. And you get stuff done. Where are you on the matrix?

Building up Clarity of Vision

During COVID, you may not care so much about three years out or the big vision. I get it. If this is the case, you can shorten your time horizon. Make sure the team knows what the vision is to get through COVID, with clarity on the short-term wins along the way. In any environment, it helps to climb a tree once in a while to survey the landscape.

For you

Create a personal vision of success. It doesn't need to be complicated. Go somewhere outside of your regular routine (home and office), and answer the following questions:

  • Imagine yourself in three years’ (or three months') time. How do you see yourself?

  • Will you be in the same employment or elsewhere?

  • What will you be working on?

  • Will you be living in the same place or not?

  • Who will your friends be?

  • What time will you spend with your family?

Try and be as concrete and realistic as you can. The sharper and clearer your focus, the better. Write the answer as one or two paragraphs.

For your team

Ask your team what the organizational vision is. If they can't answer it immediately, you have work to do.

When I worked at Rackspace ~2010, the vision was "to be recognized as one of the world's greatest service organizations". You could stop any employee in the halls and ask them what the vision is, and they would tell you immediately.

If your team or organization has struggled to create a strategy that isn't a collection of corporate buzzwords that nobody cares about, schedule a call to see how I might help you.

Building up Your Ability to Execute

For you

Eliminate wasteful meetings. Detach once a month to critically review your calendar. Cut the time of meetings down, or eliminate them entirely. Improve your speed at making decisions. Stop being reactive. Don't stare at email, Slack, or social media scanning for things to react to. This means you are working on other people's priorities, not your own.

For your team

Have just a few priorities and make it clear what done looks like. I've heard a perspective that if you have five priorities, you will do great on ZERO of them. It does not apply to everyone, but I encounter many teams that have far too many priorities to effectively accomplish any of them. Have a rhythm for running your team or your organization. Teams often meet once a year to set strategy, meet quarterly to break it down into 90-day priorities, and meet weekly to check the status and adjust. Schedule a call with me if you want help in this area. Sharpen your machetes regularly. Work on leadership team health and performance every quarter. As goes the leadership team, so goes the rest of the organization. Continuously support developing the skills of your team members, supporting their desire to pursue mastery.

Could you benefit from support in becoming a more inspiring leader?

The Vision/Execution Matrix is part of my Elevating Leadership for the New Reality Experience: A full-day workshop for leaders, split over two days to avoid "Zoom Fatigue". The content is focused on improving how you Lead Yourself and Lead Others:

  • Adopt a responsible mindset and avoid the victim mindset

  • Delegate effectively

  • Collaborate better both within and across teams

  • Inspire people through effective communication

  • Prioritize your work confidently

  • Make quick and effective decisions

  • Lead highly productive virtual teams

Recent attendees are commenting on how engaging and practical the experience is. 

How it doesn't feel like six hours at all. And how they have been able to use the new tools and ideas to immediately improve their leadership.

If you would like to discuss how I can help you improve leadership, either through coaching or a workshop, please schedule a call directly with me.

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