Leading with Vision through Context

In previous posts, I’ve written about my own definition of leadership and the need for vision. However, I have not yet discussed how to actually achieve your vision. In order to achieve your vision, the first thing you must do is to put the daily activities that you undertake with your team into the context of that vision.

I remember having a conversation in the summer of 2010 over sushi (side note –  we were at Momiji, which I highly recommend) with a friend about President Obama’s first term. An enthusiastic democrat and an early supporter of President Obama’s candidacy, he was excited.

He had argued that the President had accomplished more in his first year and a half as President than most others. He cited progress in healthcare reform, environmental stewardship, foreign policy, and others. He could not understand why there was a group of people who didn’t appreciate all of the President’s accomplishments in such a short amount of time.

My answer to him was one word: Context. While, objectively, President Obama had completed many tasks, it was unclear to me, at least, how it was all adding up. The President had surely done a lot, but what vision of our country did it support? Why did he take on these specific initiatives and not others? Were the other problems facing our country not a priority in where our country was going? And if so, why not?

Many of these questions can be answered by explaining them using the vision as context. If, for example, the goal (vision) is to grow your business’ revenue by 10%, then your actions should be explained in that context. The team needs to know that the business is spending more on business development and adding positions in that department in order to try to grow revenue by 10%. In being consistent with communicating decisions in terms of the vision statement, investments in time and money make sense to every member of the team.

My favorite model for this work is Stephen Covey’s “Four Quadrants” (pictured below). Covey uses this model to talk about time management and how to put, “First Things First”. The same principle applies in leadership.

I find that our teams are usually focused on the many tasks that they have to accomplish on a daily basis (what is “urgent”). But, if we are going to build towards our envisioned future, those urgent tasks need to be accomplished with what is “important” in mind.

A colleague of mine shared this TED Talk with me, which illustrates this point using the example of a Phlebotomist interacting with a patient:

Without the important context, most people, in the midst of their busy-ness will complete certain tasks just to finish them or “check the box”. To be intentional, we want to overcome that urge and help them keep all aspects of the task, including its ultimate goal or spirit in mind.

One of the most important roles of a leader is to provide context for all the actions that team members are asked to deliver. If that is done right, not only are consistent and reliable outcomes more likely, but also your team can partner to create your envisioned future.

KEY TAKEAWAY: One of the most important jobs for a leader is to put the daily, “urgent”, actions of team members into the context of the vision statement.