Personal Development for Leadership

One of the primary functions of personal development for leadership is to set strategy and vision. For most leaders I know, this is the part of the job they love.

Vision is the thing that inspires them to come into the office because they can turn their ideas into reality. But great visions fail all the time, even when delivered by incredibly inspirational people.

The simple fact is that vision alone won’t create transformation. If you want to turn your bold ideas into reality it’s going to require a strategic approach and understanding of organizational change management.

And when your organization is mired in interoffice politics it’s going to take some ninja moves to both highlight the organization’s weakest links while also illuminating the possibilities of a post-transformation world. 

So how can we take a cruise ship sized organization and steer it into a new direction? 

5 Steps for Operationalizing Vision for Personal Development for Leadership

Step 1 – Get clear about the vision

First things first. You need to understand what your vision is and where it’s weak spots are. To do that you’ll need to spend some time with yourself hashing it all out.

You need to lay it out, beat it up and see what’s left on the board at the end. Ask yourself, what’s the strategic vision I am most inspired to build over the next 3-5 years? And then document it.

Then ask yourself, no BS what would it take to get there? This is a time to get real and consider the possibilities with all limitations removed.

What would it take if you had all the right people? No BS, what would it take to get them? Where do you need to remove friction? Who and what is slowing you down? Why? What’s their personal perspective? How can you align with their motivators and bring them on board with the vision? If you can’t, does it matter? 

Then ask yourself, what kind of leader will you need to show up as to lead this transformation? What kind of risks do you need to take? What kind of bold moves do you need to make? What kind of conversations do you need to have? And with whom? Make a list. 

Step 2 – Get down to the heart of it

After you’ve run through all of your scenarios, probabilities and possibilities for getting there, ask yourself, what if I 80/20’d this list? Let’s be honest. There’s only so much time in the day and our calendars are already exploding.

So ask, what’s the 20% that’s going to deliver the most value and create the greatest impact? And where are my diminishing returns? Then build your action plan. A simple bulleted list will do.

Too many times we make our visions too complicated. I like to take the time to get to my lowest common denominator while delivering the highest level of impact.

I find this creates a balance for capacity in the organizational machine so that when things start working I can find the right levers to pull and accelerate.

When I simplify and start with the core I eliminate waste early and create enough capacity to expand without upsetting the entire apple cart. 

Tangibly, we focus on three primary initiatives a year that should take relatively one quarter to execute. Each quarter is broken down into two week sprints.

Those sprints are aligned with the overall road map to ensure movement on core initiatives are made and tracked. I leave the 4th quarter open when I do annual planning, intentionally.

This is when we double down on what has delivered the most impact for the year and to begin planning the first three quarters of the following year.

Every time I’ve tried to pack in another quarter of initiatives, I’ve found the team fell behind and the level of stress meeting an arbitrary deadline wasn’t worth it.

This cadence also allows for flexibility when things shift, but ensures no one gets too far outside of the boundaries of the vision. I’ve found that anything beyond two weeks allows things to get too far off the rails. 

Step 3 – Make 1 degree turns

For your vision to be a success, you’ll need to take the helm of the ship and begin to turn. This must be handled by you as no one else can see the full view like you.

But just like you wouldn’t take a hard right in a cruise ship you don’t want to make a harsh turn in your organization. Instead, learn how to make 1 degree turns towards your vision.

Small, incremental moves that lead to big transformation over time. They should be 1 incredibly efficient degree away from where you are today.

This is where you look for the big levers and then just pull them ever so slightly knowing that the micro-adjustment will have a cumulative impact.

This might be getting the right 3 people on board, knowing they will bring the others with them. Or it might be looking at how you automate 10 processes that are easy, but cumulatively take up the same amount of team productivity time as a single more complex process. To do this, you’ll need to take your 80/20’d plan and look for the smallest tactical shifts you could make to get you there. 

This is where your critical thinking skills come into play. You’re going to have to look ahead and calculate several variables to understand which of the actions represents a true 1 degree turn and which will take the team too far too fast.

You’ll need to evaluate the full gamut of operational impact, cultural impact, economic impact, legal impact and social impact to understand your potential ripple effects.

And then you’re going to have to make the call which we all know comes down to a lot of gut intuition. There will be times when you need to ruffle some feathers.

And there are times when you need to get everyone on the same page. Knowing the difference is paramount. And when you don’t know you’ll just have to take your best guess. 

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Step 4 – Create cycles for accountability

The format I’ve found works the best for my team is to implement the strategic vision, two-weeks at a time using sprint cycles common in agile software development.

This two-week frequency creates a level of accountability that large organizations, frankly need. One primary benefit is that it will quickly highlight detractors who are misaligned or sabotaging the vision.

Your job is to figure out what to do with them. The reality is that sometimes, you will have to work through individuals who don’t believe or align with the vision fully.

The key is to prioritize when. I like to leave detractors to the end and only if they are necessary. I simply don’t play the game with them. Honestly, I find that when there is no game for them to play they fizzle out.

They either self select their exit or there is enough evidence to demonstrate their self alignment. Then it gets easier as initiatives start to gain traction more people will want to leave a mark on something that’s working. 

And if you’ve done your job well, your vision will make things better in both the short and long-term so the results should start selling themselves. 

It’s important to have something you can “ship” at the end of each two week sprint. This requires leadership in breaking down initiatives into small, manageable projects with Phase one, two and three milestones that are broken down over two to three sprints.

Then at the end of each sprint the team can ship out a phase of the project as defined in its scope. This creates tremendous momentum in the team as every two weeks they get the satisfaction of reaching a state of “done” on something.

I ensure that our team celebrates these milestones and every two weeks after we roll out our work in a sprint release we hold a team dance party.

The team gets to choose the music and we all dance it out. Sometimes we get a boost from Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off and other times we belt it out to Mama Mia. 

Step 5 – Manage the people, not the vision 

As visionaries, we hope that people will understand and align to our visions. And in some cases, that can become a reality. However, our role as a leader isn’t to “manage” the vision, it’s to “set” the vision and “manage” the people.

Expecting people who are key integrators of vision to hold that big picture takes them out of their zone of genius. Their job is to manage their slice of the vision.

Your job is to show them how their slice fits into the big picture and how it will impact the whole. This is different from just sharing the vision and expecting people to figure out their role in it.

Individual conversations with key change agents socializing the idea and getting early feedback on how their team can play a key role is mission critical for driving organizational change.

Then checking in often to make sure people understand their role and impact is equally important. These champions will become the driving force behind the implementation of the vision.

Spend time in conversations with your champions and continue to set the vision every couple of weeks so they can make adjustments and align along the way. 

Conclusion

You can turn your bold ideas into reality when you begin to implement simple organizational change management practices into your daily practice.

These personal development for leadership strategies will help you solidify your vision, get the team on board and create accountability to the end result.

As leaders, we want to inspire meaningful change in our organization, but can get mired down into politics and the story that  we can’t fix it. But that’s simply not true. We can fix it. 

Transformational leaders look across the organization and instead ask, how can I create impact here? And then…you do it.