When you are tasked with developing the skills of your organization’s leaders, where do you start? Leadership is undeniably complex and affected by an unlimited amount of variables, circumstances and personalities, but even in the midst of chaos, every leader should always be able to answer three critical questions. As you build your leadership development program, start with the three questions below to help leaders establish purpose, direction and focus.

1. Where are we going?

Managers focus on daily production and adherence to standard processes, while leaders concentrate on vision and direction. Effective leaders are individuals who establish a clear vision and align the efforts of their team toward the achievement of the vision. This includes communicating the purpose, importance and foundational intention of the vision with the team.

Think of vision as it relates to the pilot of a plane. The pilot determines the destination and communicates it to the flight crew. Without a defined destination, the pilot would just fly around until he or she randomly landed somewhere, returned back to the original airport or exhausted the fuel supply.

While this is a simple concept, it is not always well executed by individuals in leadership roles. If someone asked your leaders and team members the current vision, where the team is headed and the primary objective, would each response be similar, and would their responses match your response? If your answer is yes to both questions, then you are on the right track. If the answer is no to either or both questions, then you have some work to do.

Chances are, unless you teach leaders to focus on sharing the vision and providing clear direction on where the team is headed, there will be material differences in the responses. If this is the case, create an open dialogue with the team to discuss the vision, purpose, intent and primary objective. Then, establish connections between the vision and how each person contributes to the achievement of the vision. If you identify activities that do not align with or support the vision, those particular tasks and/or processes should be evaluated and considered for elimination.

2. How are we going to get there?

After the vision and destination have been established, the next question is how they will be achieved. The pilot should not only determine the destination, but he or she must also identify the most appropriate path to reach it. This path must consider obstacles, customer needs, potential turbulence and available resources.

Ensuring the development of a strategic plan is the leader’s job, and creating the tactical steps and applying the strategy is the responsibility of the collective team. This approach provides the leader the ability to leverage the diversity, creativity and support of the team. Successful leaders communicate the vision and then empower the team to design, implement and monitor the progress of the tactical plan.

Challenge your leadership team to evaluate their performance and answer the following questions:

  • Do you have a strategic plan to reach your destination?
  • Does your team know and understand the plan?
  • Are creative ideas encouraged or criticized?
  • Does your team contribute to the development of strategic plans?

3. What does success look like?

In order to achieve success, the leader needs to be able to define precisely what success looks like. If success is not articulately defined, how do you know if you achieve success? One person’s perspective may be very different from another person’s. If the vision was to achieve market dominance, what does that mean? Does it mean 51 percent or more market share, or does it mean controlling more market share than any other competitor? Depending on the number of competitors, a 3-percent market share may be considered a market leader. These types of scenarios and ambiguity leave teams guessing and potentially hindering the progress of the team.

How do pilots know when they have reached the desired destination? They use geographical coordinates, flight maps, aircraft instruments and experience. It is critical for leaders to learn to define the measurements and details that determine success. In addition, these details must be communicated, explained, clarified and modified as necessary to ensure the team is able to remain focused on the vision, understand the strategic plan and measure progress.

Effective leadership starts with defining a vision and communicating purpose, direction and operating parameters. The strength of a leader is built by creating relationships and learning to empower and develop the individuals surrounding him or her. As circumstances evolve, the leader’s vision and strategy must remain flexible while he or she continues to evaluate and convey the measurements for success. Leadership is not a single event; it is a journey that starts with being able to answer three questions.

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