Everyone has read stories about the visionary leader who was able to see the future. The dreamer who achieved complete buy-in from her team and customers when the rest of the world wasn't ready for it. While much is written about this after the fact, less is penned about the steps taken to get there. Anyone can get in front of their team and talk about growing a business by 10x or 100x. That doesn't take any specific talent, planning or execution. Getting to 10x or 100x is, however, extremely difficult.
To put your team in a position to achieve your grand visions, you must start by creating a culture of winning. Here are three behaviors you must celebrate to give your vision a chance:
1. Celebrate large and small innovation.
Imagine an organization where a senior leader develops a creative plan that has a profound impact on the entire organization, such as winning thousands of new customers or increasing revenue by millions of dollars. Chances are good that this leader would be promoted, given a large bonus and/or recognized publicly in front of his peers.
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Now, picture at that same company, an entry-level team member who figures out a way to save $100 on the purchase of office supplies by price comparison with a new vendor. More times than not, this action goes completely unnoticed, without even the proverbial pat on the back. This employee action though, however small, is a form of innovation. Does this modest action make or break the company? Of course not. That is not the point. The point is the behavior.
Celebrate the behaviors you want and you'll find that team members will both know what behaviors to strive for and work harder to fulfill them. Every employee seeks, at the most basic level, to know what is expected of them and to make their employer happy. A hundred-dollar innovation today paves the road for a million-dollar one tomorrow.
Companies too often get caught up with only recognizing eye-popping numbers. They neglect to understand that sometimes fantastic outcomes result from luck more than skill or good process. Luck can win in the interim, but bet on process in the long-haul -- which leads us to the second behavior to celebrate.
2. Celebrate the process over the outcome.
There is a randomness in business and life that should caution anyone not to place too great an emphasis on any limited sample set of data. For instance, someone this week will win a fortune playing the lottery. That's a terrific outcome for this particular individual. All of us would consider this new millionaire to be quite fortunate. None of us, however, would encourage this lucky soul to spend their entire new found winnings on additional lottery tickets. That would be a bad process. Yet, in business this celebration of bad process happens constantly.
People are promoted rapidly because of a single great quarter or sale -- or written off or fired because of a single bad quarter or lost client. Results can sometimes mask a flawed process or hide a great one from plain sight. Average leaders say, "Numbers don't lie." Great leaders say, "Why?" They examine and review the process that generated the numbers. Why did this not work? Or, why did this work? Should this have worked? Was this single good or bad result a fluke?
The great leader understands the statistical concept of regression to the mean. Recognize the phenomenon that if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second measurement. Or in other words, the law of averages will eventually play out.
This certainly isn't to say that great leadership is about inaction (i.e., waiting for an exorbitant amount of time for data to prove itself out). It merely is to suggest that regardless of results, the process must be evaluated as closely as the results.
3. Celebrate the culture you want.
As discussed in the first point, employee behavior is a byproduct of what you promote. Take a moment to recognize a small, yet smart decision by a junior team member today, and you'll be doing the culture equivalent of genetically encoding them to work and lead by the actions you encourage.
What most companies fail to realize about winning cultures is that they don't exist by accident. They exist because the leader is deliberate about their culture and core values and repeatedly celebrates the actions of team members that reinforce it. If you want a culture of winners, start by talking about what you want and highlighting examples of it at every opportunity.
Visionary leadership is so rare because it's difficult to achieve. It requires attention to the subtle innovation along with the obvious, deeper examination of the losses, as well as the wins, and constant reinforcement of the actions you seek to make automatic with your team. Creating a winning culture on your team starts with you and celebrating the three behaviors above.