There are two types of leaders in a crisis — those who become totally obsessed with the short term, and those who are savvy enough to look at the long-term implications of what is happening around them. These are the ones with vision. These are the ones who, even if things are tough (as they are for so many right now), will emerge victorious. Or at least with a business that still has somewhere to go.
The problem is, it’s so easy to become the leader with the short-term vision when things are going wrong around you. You jump from one fire to the next, putting them out as you go but always finding another one to deal with. Of course, at the time this is going to seem like the best thing to do, but think of it this way — shouldn’t the firefighters be dealing with the small blazes? And shouldn’t the fire chief, the brigade captain, be overseeing everything and coming up with a long-term plan so that the fires, once out, don’t start up again?
The answer is yes. And this is why the most successful leaders are the ones who don’t feel they have to deal with every little thing that goes wrong; they have the right staff to do that for them. They concentrate on where the business is going and how to get there. It’s not that these people don’t have crises to deal with — they absolutely do because everyone does — it’s just that they know how best to handle them. And who is best to handle them. And that person isn’t always the chief; it’s often one of the firefighters instead.
The Current Situation
There’s no way to get around the fact that the current situation is not a good one for many businesses. Business owners and leaders are going to be concerned about the future viability of their companies, and that’s important, of course. But in order to come up with a plan that is going to work, you need to have that long-term vision. Fighting the fires that are burning all around you will only take you so far; you are going to need to get further than that, wherever that is.
This is why you need to have an effective vision. John Kotter’s best selling book, Leading Change, suggests that an effective vision has six distinct characteristics, and each one is going to need to be put in place in you want to have a successful, sustainable, future. (full disclosure: Kotter and his executive team were clients of mine when I helped them create their first Mission, Vision and Values.)
The Six Characteristics of An Effective Vision
- Imaginable: Your vision needs to set out exactly what the future should look like.
- Desirable: Whatever you plan is, it needs to appeal to everyone. That’s not just customers; it’s employees, stakeholders, and anyone else who might have an interest in the business.
- Feasible: Of course, your vision for the future needs to be realistic. You need to be able to get where you want to go.
- Focused: Your plan needs to be a clear one, and it needs to get right to the heart of the matter.
- Flexible: Being flexible in business is hugely important, and when it comes to creating an effective vision there has never been more need for flexibility. If the plan has to change, you need to allow it to while still maintaining control.
- Communicable: Can you explain your plan in five minutes? No? Then it’s too complicated. It should be something that takes moments to explain and that everyone can understand.
An effective vision is not something that can be thought up in seconds and spewed out suddenly without taking any time to think things through. This method is going to be short sighted, confused, and will most likely end in failure — certainly for the long term. You need to spend time on getting your vision exactly right. This might be difficult (it should be). This might be messy (probably). This might be a case of many — many — trials and many errors before the solution presents itself.
That’s okay. In fact, that’s what it needs to be. The very first plan that comes into your mind might — just might — hold the basis for the final vision, but it won’t be everything. You’ll need to take that idea, twist it, pull it apart, put it back together again, and then start the process over until you have all of those above six points covered.
What many business owners and leaders worry about is the time this will take. In the meantime, while they are coming up with this vision, the crisis that is affecting their business might be taking everything over. But that’s why there are firefighters to help you. Or at least there should be. That’s what they do, they keep things running, they keep the wheels turning. And your job is to steer, otherwise you’ll end up driving into a brick wall. Keep your eyes on the road ahead and your vision will become an effective one.