This article originally appeared as a Council Post on Forbes here.
Leading is an uphill task.
The difficulty is not only from the never-ending journey of self-mastery. As businesses and governments face unprecedented post-pandemic challenges in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, leaders also have to take care of the evolving needs of employees. To rise to the challenge and continue to thrive, leaders must be resilient and agile. To do so, according to an article by World Economic Forum, they can “start by anticipating what success looks like at the end of the recover phase — how their business will thrive for the long-term — then guide their teams to execute an outcome-based set of sprints to get there with agility.”
The question here is: Who truly knows what success really looks like? Does anyone have the answer?
Stephen R. Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind.”
But how will leaders be able to “see” the end when the current reality is not clear, not to mention the feasibility of envisioning a successful end-state when the definition of success changes so rapidly that a successful end-state today might not be the same as what looks like success tomorrow?
One thing is for sure — agility is definitely required for executives who are leading today. Agility, a mindset, coupled with agile delivery principles, keeps leaders flexible as unexpected disruptors emerge and new issues surface, retaining their adaptiveness in correcting the path. Embracing agility and creating an evolving vision is then a wiser way to proceed, at least for the foreseeable future.
Conceptually, all leaders understand this, but the key question is, how can a leader “fly the plane while building it”?
Executives I work with often speak of the need to toggle and balance between two states — responding versus preempting. As reality continues to unfold and reveal itself, leaders have to keep inspiring their teams and organizations with a compelling vision, continue to pivot and help their business gain the competitive edge, improve bottom lines and raise profitability while creating value for societies. Doing this without a vision that evolves and adapts and being solely responsive, or even reactive, is not an option. Ignoring the current threats as they emerge and focusing solely on the future is also not feasible.
How to cast and maintain a vision that keeps changing, then? This transformation journey is one without a destination. Getting there requires everyone in your team to be on board — and here are some ways for you to involve everyone.
1. Tell memorable stories that convey the meaning behind the vision.
Many leaders make the mistake of creating extensive documents of their vision. Their effort to be thorough is commendable, but would you want to read a vision document that is hundreds of pages long or sit through a presentation that is disconnected from yourself?
Storytelling is an essential leadership skill because good stories evoke the right emotions that inspire and bring people together. Pick the right story so that your vision is so compelling that everyone wants to take part in it.
In my earlier article on listening to the five inner voices of agile leaders, one of the voices, the Visionary, addresses the need for self-actualization for every single person as they partake in the dream. According to one Deloitte article on communicating a vision statement for transformation, your leadership vision statement must be “clear, concrete, compelling, and connected for individuals throughout the organization.”
For employees to embrace the vision, communicate the “why,” “what” and “how” adequately and abundantly through a compelling story.
2. Explain the impact of changes and modifications, communicating the value of such improvements.
It’s natural to feel uncertain about the road ahead given the pathway toward the goal changes rapidly. Sometimes the goal changes along the way, too.
“Embrace and explain ambiguity,” one of the suggested leadership practices that develop new leadership capabilities for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the white paper published by World Economic Forum, is especially important during and post-pandemic. In this period, leaders have to also be vigilant in building a culture that allows voices to be heard and concerns to be surfaced and enhances employee well-being/ engagement. Anticipating employees’ concerns, explaining what the change means to them and how it changes their way of working as contexts continue to be ambiguous, will increase the sense of assurance and confidence.
“What’s in it for me?” is the key question every leader must answer. Everyone needs to know the part they play and, most importantly, it’s the perfect opportunity to inspire, showing how the evolving vision holds great value by improving jobs.
3. Keep the vision alive, and revive it often.
Leaders make the mistake of assuming that teams know that the vision is where the organization is heading.
Often in my work to develop agility in leaders, they speak of the frustrations related to a lack of alignment and claim that the teams “should have known” the vision the organization is working toward.
“Should have known” or “should know” are not helpful expectations here.
Vision, like a balloon, needs to be injected with new anecdotes to keep it afloat. When the vision is visible and afloat, it occupies the top-of-mind awareness of employees.
Subconsciously, or perhaps more intentionally, actions can be chosen to move toward the vision in unison and as one. Keeping the vision alive and communicating it often allows you to update your team on the changes in the playing field, including results and adjustments that are needed to continue to move forward in the right direction.
Leaders play an instrumental role in the world. Both businesses and government sectors are undergoing rapid transformations that will only pick up in pace. As a leader, your ability to bring people along and keep teams together toward a worthy goal might be your ultimate challenge — and communicating an evolving vision with agility might just be the way for your organization to rise above the rest.
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