I often ask clients and audience members to share leadership traits they value. Predictably, many mention leadership vision. And rightfully so. The dictionary defines vision as, “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination and wisdom.” Certainly, thinking, planning, imagination and wisdom are valuable characteristics for leaders. Yet, for me, a second, and better definition of vision is this: “a vivid mental image of what the future will or could be.” Let’s look into how you can create a “vivid mental image” of the leader you want to be.

The Problem With a Lack of Leadership Vision

First a disclaimer. This is NOT some 21st Century, pop psychology. Leadership vision is NOT a new concept.

For example, the Biblical Book of Proverbs was written more than three thousand years ago. And it is often referred to as the “Book of Wisdom.” It records a succinct, yet powerful warning against a lack of vision, provided by wise King Solomon himself.

“Where there is no vision,” Solomon declared, “the people perish.” Proverbs Chapter 29, Verse 18 (King James Version).

How’s that for a sobering thought…

People — and by extension the countries, organizations, and cultures they represent — are ultimately doomed to perish — CEASE, COLLAPSE, DISAPPEAR ENTIRELY — for lack of a vision.

Is that overstated? I don’t think so.

Who’s Responsible for Leadership Vision?

So who exactly is responsible for creating and communicating vision? Leaders, that’s who! You and me.

I shudder at the thought of being in a leadership position, only to watch the individuals and organizations I’ve been called to lead, fade into oblivion, due to my failure to supply a “vivid mental image” of where we’re going or how to get there.

I’m not willing to let that happen. And I don’t want it to happen to you either. So, here’s what I propose. I propose we begin — you and I — right now, right where we are, to do all that we can.

Aligning Vision with Perspective

And the first thing we can do is align vision with a personal perspective.

Remember, vision is developing a vivid mental image of what the future will or could be. But perspective is understanding the relative importance of current things, tempered with the ability to apply a sense of proportion.

Or said more directly, we must begin by acknowledging the things we can control instead of blaming the things we can’t.

Too often, I hear people openly complain about the failings and shortcomings of governments, suppliers, superiors, peers and subordinates. Yet these very same folks conveniently overlook or dismiss entirely, their ability to change and control the mindset and habits which impact their performance and interaction with those same people.

4 Steps to Create Your Leadership Vision

So I ask you to embrace the following visioning exercise.

  1. Ask yourself: As a leader, what specific skills do I want to possess?
  2. Brainstorm and blue-sky a very “vivid mental image” of what your leadership would look like played out. Think like a child — no limitations, instead explore imaginative “what if-ing.”
  3. Add perspective… What can I do? What do I need help on?
  4. Look around and be aware… Who does this well and can help me get better?

Here’s an example.

Personally, I’ve always placed great value on truthfulness, candor, and direct communication in leaders.

So, years ago I created my leadership vision, my “vivid mental image,” of what being truthful, candid, and openly communicative looks like to me. Then I stopped to consider perspective. I realized I couldn’t do everything — but I could do something.

So I purposefully looked around to identify people who were admittedly better — more fully developed — in these particular skills sets than I. And I began to watch and study them carefully.

At first, from afar, but eventually, I approached and engaged them in conversation about how they did what they did so well — and what advice they might have for me.

I challenge you to find someone who is better at what you envision yourself being great at and begin the intentional process of learning from them.

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Low Risk, High Reward

It’s a low-risk, high reward activity to help you begin establishing your personal leadership vision while embracing the perspective and opportunities currently present.

Remember, when your vision is crystal clear, the decisions you make and the paths you take will always be easier.

Now, go get started!

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We have a whole section in our leadership development training we call “unpardonable sins of leadership.” These leadership flaws are the actions and attributes that so obviously hamper good leadership that many people find them inexcusable. Take a couple minutes and do a self-check, your leadership reputation is worth it.

Inexcusable Leadership Flaws: The “Bad 6”

  1. Incompetence
  2. Insensitivity
  3. Indifference
  4. Inconsistency
  5. Lack of self-discipline
  6. Ineffective communication

1. Incompetent Leadership

Incompetence is an inability to perform. From a leadership standpoint, it can be not understanding what you’re doing. Or worse still, some incompetent leaders think they know what they are doing and they are doing it well. While in reality, they are doing anything but.

Incompetence is probably the easiest of the leadership flaws to overcome. In essence, incompetence is a form of ignorance, defined as a lack of information, knowledge or understanding. So those leaders willing to learn and grow have the best chance for overcoming this leadership flaw.

I often illustrate a success mindset using a triangle. I call it the “triangle of success” because it has three important elements. On the left side of the triangle is “knowledge.” The right side of the triangle is “skill.” But the most important element is the foundation of the triangle. And that element is “attitude.” (Here’s what the “triangle of success” looks like.)

By increasing knowledge (or understanding) as well as increasing skill (the application of understanding), incompetence can be reduced. But it all rests on attitude (or desire).

What is your attitude? Are you willing to apply yourself to learn, grow and get better?

2. Insensitivity

Being insensitive to the needs of other people is a huge leadership flaw. A part of engaged leadership is rooted in caring for those we lead. If care for others is lacking or absent, then we’re not really leading. Instead, we’re driving them, manipulating them, or simply managing them. But we’re not leading them.

Trusted leaders have an authentic level of sensitivity, compassion and concern for their people. When they see or sense someone is going through something, they don’t ignore it. Here’s a quick example.

Let’s say you have a sensitivity to people who are isolated or neglected. Whether they ever mention it, you see it or you sense it. But this awareness is not enough.  You choose to act on your awareness of this person’s isolation.

In the mind of those around you, taking action is an act of leadership.  While inaction is the same as unawareness or insensitivity.

How can they know you’re aware unless you act?

3. Indifference

While insensitivity is a lack of awareness, indifference means, “I see or sense it, but I don’t really care.” Indifferences says, “that’s not my problem.” Or “I have a lot of other, more pressing issues I’m responsible for.” In essence, the indifferent leader priorities their needs over the needs of the people they lead.

The leadership flaw of indifference may also point to a greater disconnect between the leader and their people.

4. Inconsistency

Inconsistent behavior. If the people you lead can’t predict your actions and reactions, then frankly, they are constantly confused. Employees want consistency and predictability.

Consistent behavior is a strange and powerful leadership force. So much so, that even if a leader is consistently bad, people can adapt and adjust to those behaviors.

Regarding this leadership flaw, I’ve often said (tongue-in-cheek) to leaders, “If you’re going to be a jerk, be a jerk all the time!” At least your people know how you are day in and day out and they can adjust their behavior to yours.

But with inconsistent behavior, people can’t predict, adapt or adjust because they are never certain how the leader will react.

5. Lack of self-discipline

Discipline has such a negative connotation for so many. Discipline in essence is control. And for leaders, self-discipline means self-control.

The quickest way for a leader to lose leadership respect is to lose self-control — specifically to lose their temper. I’ve witnessed it too many times. Leaders get angry — and they show it. A bad thought comes in their head — and it comes out their mouth. And the sad part of this leadership flaw is it results in self-inflicted wounds.

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6. Ineffective communication

Communication is most effective when a connection is formed. The more connected you are, the more effective your communication will be. Leaders who spend time making connections with their people are going to be better communicators — and better leaders!

But in the rush to “get things done,” some leaders make the mistake of thinking “one size fits all.” That’s the thinking of an ineffective communicator. It may also be a sign of an insensitive or indifferent leader.

How have you seen these “bad 6” leadership flaws play out? Let me know in the comments below.

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