Lessons in Leadership: Vision (an excerpt from Dr. Bandelli’s Book, What Every Leader Needs)

Jennifer was not your typical retail executive. She’s spent close to a decade working her way up through the organization at a time when men predominately got the promotions and key leadership roles. She was a fighter. Scrappy and driven, she did what was necessary to elevate her brand and leadership. I met Jennifer shortly after she was promoted to an SVP and Region Lead for the Northeast of a Fortune 100 retailer. She was three months into role when I received a call. The conversation went something like this:

Jennifer: “Hello Adam, I was given your name from one of our corporate HRBPs. I am having a lot of problems with one of my district managers and we need you to do a 360 assessment and some coaching.”

Adam: “I see. Can you tell me a little more about what has been going on with your district manager?”

Jennifer: “Well Ted has been with the company for over fifteen years. He has been successful in each of his last three roles, but is beginning to get the reputation for leading with an iron fist. He does little to support his people, and does not lead with a development mindset. His people are afraid of him and worried when he visits their stores.”

Adam: “Jennifer, I would be happy to help. Let’s find some time to meet face-to-face so I can take you through our process and outline how I might be able to help Ted with some executive coaching.”

Two weeks later I met Jennifer for the first time. We were scheduled to meet for one hour and talk primarily about Ted. From the moment we started the conversation there was an immediate professional chemistry. The kind coaches dream of having with their clients. The kind that clients have when they find a true trusted advisor. We spent about 15-20 minutes talking about the situation with Ted, and the next two and half hours about Jennifer’s leadership, the fact that she just stepped into a huge role, and needed help motivating and galvanizing her team. This was a team of seventeen direct reports, most of which had very close relationships with one another and her predecessor. She was stepping out of his shadow and needed to build a vision for what her leadership team would look like. For what they would hope to accomplish collectively moving forward.

I knew Jennifer had to start with her personal vision. What did she want this role to be about? What impact did she want to leave on the organization? How could this filter into the vision she would set for her team? We scheduled a half-day session to begin discussing her vision. Jennifer and I met in a conference room at the Grand Hyatt in Philadelphia at 8am and had to have some idea of what she wanted to share with her team in a three-day off-site that was to begin at 3pm that afternoon. We started talking about her leadership style. What had gotten her to this position? What did she value about people? How did she lead? How did she want to lead moving forward?

After about two hours of discussion we started coming together with several areas that she wanted the vision for the region to be about. Her company is notorious for using acronyms, so we started taking her areas and looking for a word that could capture all of them. After some deliberation, we came up with something like M.O.T.I.V.A.T.E. Each letter represented one part of her vision for the team. For example, the M was for meet performance goals, O was for outstanding customer service, T was for teamwork, and so on and so forth. Jennifer was beginning to see how her personal vision for excellence could be translated into definable and measurable behaviors that she could share with her team.

I will never forget the experience when she unveiled the acronym and each behavior to the team. She shared the outline of vision with great pride and confidence. This was something she put all her heart into. The other thing that was remarkable is she didn’t talk at her team about the vision. She shared her initial ideas and then solicited feedback from all seventeen direct reports. This process resonated with her team. They discussed the behaviors. The debated the areas of focus. They made changes to reflect everyone’s thinking. At the end of the day, Jennifer, and her team, had a vision that meant something to each of them. They felt that they had collectively put in place the foundation for how they would lead the region over the next several years.

Jennifer understood the power of vision. She believed that it was the cornerstone for how her team would drive results, and hold people accountable to desired expectations. She took the time to get clear for herself, and then brought her people along to create their future. I was proud of her, and her team, for starting that journey together.

For more information on Dr. Bandelli’s book, What Every Leader Needs, contact Bandelli & Associates at abandelli@bandelliassociates.com.

Leadership Matters. Without It, People Fail.