Most of the leadership books I’ve read talk a lot about the characteristics of a leader, without quite getting to a definition. So I use my own simple definition, consistent with leaders I’ve had experience with:
Leadership is the art of selling a vision.
People often assume that coming up with a vision is part of leadership, but in my view it’s not. The person cleaning the CEO’s office might say, “I’d really like a small computer that my kids could use to learn and play without any training.” That’s a vision. Anyone can have one. The trick is to get enough people to agree to pursue it, that you can make it a reality. In other words, you have to sell the vision.
Step 1 of the A⁵ system is “Agree.” Agree on the vision that you want to achieve; Agree on what success really means. That seems like a pretty obvious first step. People sometimes equate it with Stephen Covey’s famous statement, “Begin with the end in mind.” But to achieve real Agreement, it’s not enough to just have the end in mind. The fact that the CEO has a vision doesn’t mean people agree to it. Agreement means selling the vision among those who are going to help achieve it. In other words, leadership.
We tend to think of leaders as the powerful people in society—heads of state, CEOs, titans of industry and society. Those are the people with the loudest voices, and therefore the ones we most often hear selling a vision. But they’re not the only leaders. For example, suppose I come to you with an idea—some kind of vision for something we should do together. If I can sell it to you, I’m a leader. But what I’d really like is if you would also start to sell it, because then we get even more people on board. I want you to be a leader, too. In fact, in the most effective organizations I’ve seen, everyone is actively communicating, discussing, and selling the destination. They’re all leaders.
Good leaders don’t just sell the vision by virtue of their power, dictating it to everyone. People don’t respond well to pressure to accept a particular view or attitude. If you use your power to compel people to do something, they will resent your use of authority and may even try to undermine it. Good leaders foster communication and discussion, encouraging others to lead and adapting the vision when that makes sense. They create a culture of leadership.
If you’re reading this blog because you’re interested in project management, you may be wondering: what does this mean for me? For one thing, it means that you should be a good leader, communicating and discussing the vision for your project until there is Agreement among team members. Team members need to know what success looks like. It’s surprising how often project teams don’t really talk about success, until they’ve discovered that they don’t have Agreement. But more than that, you should encourage team members to sell the vision as well. In creating a culture of leadership, your people will work together more effectively, and you will be more successful.
- Leadership is the art of selling a vision.
- Step 1 of the A5 system, Agree, requires leadership.
- Good leaders build a culture of leadership.
- On June 25, 2019