Research on leadership recently published in the Harvard Business Review measured 19 different leadership capabilities. That’s a lot of characteristics to juggle and master! But not all capabilities are created equal. As seasoned executive coaches, one characteristic we consistently find vital is vision.
The fact is that people are attracted to those who “think big.” We find that executives who can articulate an understandable, inclusive big picture — the “why” of the work — will attract and retain employees willing to dedicate themselves more fully and perform at a higher level. True executive leadership connects employee work to a higher purpose.
You may be familiar with Simon Sinek’s classic “Start With Why, How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.” It’s an approach that works. As an executive it is extremely valuable to have a high-level, purpose-driven point of view to establish meaningful leadership — a vision of what you believe that will inspire and motivate others. Vision sets the stage for performance and achievement. Here’s what that can look like:
Tanya worked for a national network of rehabilitation and long-term nursing centers. She ran one of the nursing center facilities and was an accomplished administrator. Tanya was also an exceptional leader. The “why” she imbued in her staff was not only to care for, but to care about their elderly residents — a daily commitment to making the resident’s last years, months, and weeks truly special. She was able to build and retain a staff devoted to a focus on dignity, friendship, and comfort.
The culture was positive, energetic, and giving. Staff turnover was remarkably low — in an industry known for high turnover rates. Resident and family satisfaction ratings were among the highest in the national network.
People loved working for Tanya because she offered a “why” that went beyond the dashboard metrics of minimizing patient falls, meeting state certification standards, or efficiently managing the food budget. Vision is not “beating last year’s numbers.” As Sinek says, “Profit is not a why, it’s a result.”
At some point in our careers most of us have worked for an executive who lacked vision. With no big “why” to rally around, they were uninspiring and sometimes downright boring to work for. Often they are competent administrators, planners, and managers. But they are not leaders. As Sinek notes, “Martin Luther King said ‘I have a dream,’ not ‘I have a plan.’”
What’s your why?
Here are three suggestions to get you started.
Start small. Your “big” why is relative. It does not have to be a far-reaching, world-changing thing that will alter the course of humanity (although if you have a why that does, go for it). Your why can be specific to your professional expertise or even a project you are working on: “The ‘why’ of the product development project I’m leading is to empower paramedics to make quicker, more accurate assessments, saving thousands of lives a year.”
Do it now. Don’t wait to be promoted to a certain position or hold a particular title. Develop your own personal “why” today. Doing it now will change your attitude and your behavior. It will result in you beginning to think and act like a leader. It will position you as a leader in your organization, poised for future opportunities. Also, people will notice. You will become an informal leader — informal leaders often have greater credibility and get more accomplished than those on the organizational chart.
Experiment with Sinek’s approach. Explore Simon Sinek’s methodology and framework to develop and articulate the why of your professional executive role and your business. Work it out on a whiteboard. Put it on paper. The simple act of writing is a powerful way to define and express the core of what you believe — your purpose, your why.
To learn more about executive coaching, leadership training, and developing your executive leadership capabilities, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646.684.3777.