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TAKING THE LEAD
There is an old saying; "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." Clearly, you don't intend to follow— that's why you started your own business. You want to lead for a change. But how do you know if you are really leading or if you're just getting in the way? Answering the following four questions will help you find out.
Do you have a clear vision for your company?
Above and beyond anything else, leaders are visionaries. Having a vision is what separates leaders from followers. What vision do you have for your company? Imagine your business five or ten years from now. What comes to mind? Of course, you visualize the firm growing rapidly and making a lot of money. But your ultimate vision must be something more than merely making money. That won't be enough to inspire your employees--even if you intend to share the wealth with them.
An effective vision is something people rally around because it is good for customers, employees, the community, investors—everyone involved in or touched by your business. A vision can be as grand and far-reaching as the one Martin Luther King expressed in his famous "I Have A Dream" speech, or as seemingly ordinary as McDonald's commitment to quality, service, cleanliness, and value.
If you already have a vision of where you want your company to go, great! If you don't have a vision, you need to develop one. But how?
A useful way to develop a vision is suggested by Jay Conger in his book The Charismatic Leader. Conger proposes three basic types of visions applicable to entrepreneurs. First, you might have a vision for a revolutionary new product or service, such as Edwin Land's idea for instant photography using the Polaroid camera. Could your company offer a product or service with lasting appeal—one that would revolutionize the marketplace? If so, maybe that should be your company's vision.
The second type of vision has a social focus. Maybe the product or service your company offers has a permanent and significant impact on society. That's the type of vision Steven Jobs had for his Next computers. Jobs wanted to produce a computer of particular benefit to educational institutions and revolutionize the learning process.
The third type of vision you might have is more inward-looking. Perhaps you just want to operate our own company in a new way. For example, Mary Kay's vision was not only to create a cosmetics business, but to found a company that would offer her female employees the chance to "be all they could be.”
The vision you have for your company may encompass more than one of these types. For example, Conger writes, Donald Burr's vision for People Express Airlines incorporated both a social component (making air travel available to those who previously could not afford it) and an inward focus (creating a business that would be managed and operated in a totally new way).
To develop a unique vision for your company, think about these three types of visions. Are any appropriate for what you want to accomplish? Imagine your company five or ten years from now. Will it have revolutionized the marketplace with a new product or service? Helped America deal with some significant social issue or problem?
(NOTE: You may be asking "Didn't Steven Jobs run into trouble with his Next computer and didn't Donald Burr's People Express ultimately fail?" You are right. But the fact that Jobs and Burr ran into trouble with their companies doesn't detract from their visions. Having a good, powerful, motivating vision is important , but it is still no guarantee of success. If it were, the other chapters in this book and even the other sections of this chapter would be unnecessary.)
Can you communicate your vision?
Leaders have to be great communicators. It's one thing to have a vision of the future; it’s another to motivate people to achieve that vision. Leaders motivate people to action through their words.
If you have the gift of oratory, great. But if you're not a naturally talented speaker, does that mean you can't lead? Not at all. The key is to truly believe in your vision and communicate your excitement about it.
The best way to help your employees share your vision is to tell a story illustrating it. How did you arrive at this vision? What event led you to it? Talk about how people's lives might be changed if your vision is realized.
Are you good with the details of execution?
Having and communicating a vision is important. But to realize your vision, you must also know the nuts and bolts of how to get there. A vision is a destination. Leaders have to know the route to follow to reach that destination.
To lead, you must know enough about the details to help your followers plan and execute a course of action for achieving your vision. That doesn’t mean you develop the plan all by yourself. Nor does it mean you sketch out the barest details of a plan and then leave your followers to their own devices. Leading means balancing your involvement in the details of execution with your followers' need for independence and involvement in deciding how things get done. To lead, you must have a plan in mind; but you must also be willing to listen, learn, and experiment with alternatives suggested by your followers.
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