Leadership Series: Visionary
I am fully convinced that in some ways our employees are similar to raising kids - if we give them room to grow and succeed they will, and with support can, grow into self motivated and high achieving individuals who buy into and compliment the broader vision you have welcomed them into.
This is the second of a six part series on leadership by Geoff Van Berkel from Calvin College and Eco Green Supply. Read the Intro here and stay tuned every Friday for more.
I have a large family. 8 kids- no joke.
5 of my 8 kids were not born into our family. They were brought in through adoption from a third world country in the Caribbean. Two of the 5 came as infants, but 3 of my adopted kids came to our family as teenagers.
We have discovered as a mixed family that both nurture and nature play into the development of character/personality of an individual. My biological children were born into a Dutch immigrant work ethic, intrinsically (seemingly) understood the work=success=wealth paradigm, and have easily embraced the dreaming and planning of a successful education and career choice that will allow them to support themselves and their families.
My adopted kids, however, haven’t embraced that worldview as readily. Growing up in poverty and desperate need has deeply affected them in a number of ways; the ability to understand the benefits of work, the motivation to “make something of yourself”, and most importantly the ability to dream of future possibilities as opposed to focusing on only making it through today.
Right about now, most of you are thinking “what in the world does this have to do with leadership?” Hold on a minute- we’ll get there…..
One of my biggest challenges in raising these kids is to teach them to dream bigger than merely survival. These kids grew up worrying about what they would eat TODAY. Where they would sleep TODAY. Where they would live TODAY. They had to think short term only, there was no opportunity to plan ahead or to save – it was hand to mouth living.
Too often when I am learning about a new customer’s business, or then visiting colleges and university Grounds staff, I find working staff that has a “poverty” mindset about their work. They have fallen into the habit (either forced or by choice) of having a very short term thinking about their work. “Poverty” mindset is not all that different that the “time-clock” mentality” or “weekend warriors”. The idea is to get through the day or week however possible so that I can go do something that l would rather do. Work is what I have to do, not want I want to do – the means to an end. The drudgery of punching the time-clock and counting the minutes until break, or dragging in on Monday morning with the only thing to look forward to being Friday afternoon.
When the people on your staff live by this worldview I believe there is a great waste of potential. As a visionary leader, you need to be able to create an environment where your staff can move beyond the day to day “have to” and move towards a long term vision of their work that they can get excited about and work towards.
The big question is, how do we get our people excited about work? As leaders, we need to give them the space, support and resources to create a vision.
Here’s some ideas to get you started…
- Your vision may influence their vision, but you can’t force your vision on someone else and expect them to embrace it. I believe that to grow, our staff must be able to participate in both the vision casting and then the implementation of their work.
- Don’t micromanage- their vision may not be exactly your vision, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong. Allow generous parameters if possible. Let them take some chances and give some room to succeed. Don’t second guess, but rather help them to develop and fine tune their vision to fit into the larger scope of the organization. Find them some training opportunities or materials to reinforce their direction and then stand back and let them go.
- Back them up. Listen to and encourage ideas and innovation. Make them research products and practices and learn the hows and whys. This will take some time, especially If you have employees that are used to being micromanaged or have lost any sort of passion about their job. You will need to be patient as they learn to trust you. Let them know you are “for” them and will defend their vision – it will change the way you are seen as a leader.
- Find out what each of your staff’s gifts and passions are, and then guide them in the best ways to use them at work. Have them take a quick personality test to see what make them tick – such as the online 16 Personalities and then consider their personality when guiding their vision. Match the tasks with the person as much as possible so they are operating out of their strengths, not from their weaknesses. Don’t expect a creative introvert to successfully lead dominate rationalist personalities- that is just setting them up to fail.
To give your employees trust and room to dream can seem risky, especially if your leadership style has been “top down” or directive. If you are willing to take the chance, usually the potential benefits of a staff of passionate employees far outweighs the “time clock” mentality.
There is a chance you will have some employees that are too far removed from being able to dream. Whether they are fostering deep seated grudges or have no interest in growing and improving the workplace- you will need to identify who they are. You may need to “thin the herd”. There will be those who would rather cause friction and adversity than go with the vision. You cannot have a growing and prospering staff if there is “cancer” eating away at morale. Deal with it in whatever way your organization allows you to- but don’t let things slide for one more day. If you want a team of top performers, then you will need to cull the ones that have no desire to be better.
Find ways to reward and encourage your high performers – they already know how to create vision and work towards a goal, you just need to give them freedom within parameters. Coach your average performers towards top performers – give them the tools they need in light of their strengths and gifts in order to start moving them towards the right.
After being home for 1 ½ years, my adopted teenagers are starting to dream. One is in driver’s ed. One is playing on a basketball team. They are making friends who have future goals, they are working part time jobs and are starting savings accounts. They are beginning to look forward to and work towards bigger things instead of just making it through the day. But it’s not always easy- there are days of failure and there are tears. Growing is sometimes painful. However, I am fully convinced that in some ways our employees are similar to raising kids – if we give them room to grow and succeed they will, and with support can, grow into self motivated and high achieving individuals who buy into and compliment the broader vision you have welcomed them into.