One of the great arts of leadership is knowing how to close the gap between vision and advice. More than a few disasters have resulted from a failure at this art and so I want to take some time to think this through with you.
When leaders get a vision, it is a beautiful and powerful thing. It is personal. It is intensely internal. It feels something like I assume a pregnancy does for a woman. There is life inside me. It is something I created. I must protect it and care for it until the time for birth.
Now the good leader will usually share this vision with his or her team. This is wise. Yet it only takes a few critical comments for the leader pregnant with vision to feel like their team has become invading barbarians. This life isn’t “theirs.” Perhaps they don’t have the capacity to carry it. They even want to change it! How dare they. I must protect it at all costs.
It is at these moments that serious damage can be done to a leader and his or her team. Leaders feel like they have received something almost holy. A vision that will change everything. The team may feel bulldozed. They may feel like massive change is being forced upon them without their input or consultation. This will particularly be true if the team has been brought in late. We must always remember the old maxim. “Bring me in early and I’m your advocate. Bring me in late and I’m your opposition.”
So how do you handle this gap between vision and advice?
First, relax. A vision is a malleable thing. It won’t be killed by being altered a bit. Perhaps you have a vision for a building. Trust me, once you hand the project to an architect and a builder, it’s going to be changed. As it should be. Always keep in mind that you didn’t receive an exact vision with blueprint level details. Your vision is fuzzy at the edges. It needs expertise you don’t have to become reality. Again, relax.
Second, the advice you give is meant to help you flesh out your vision. I think of visions I have as similar to the line drawings we were meant to color in when we were children. I need people to fill in the color. I need people to rip it from the page and put it in the process that makes it a 3D reality. I can’t do it all myself. The advice phase is us talking out what this is all going to look like. Again, relax and welcome the input.
Third, keep in mind that change scares people. Your team’s first response may be negative. Let the emotions dissipate. Good advice will come once everyone settles down.
Finally, listen. Let me say that again. Listen. No one is trying to destroy your precious child. The people around you know things you don’t. Listen. Ponder. Get more advice from other people. Listen and ponder some more. It takes teams to make visions reality. Listening to those around you matures the vision and gets your team on board.
Here’s the core truth. That gap between vision and advice? It’s right in the middle of that gap where most visions become reality. Hold the vision. Accept wise counsel. Let the new begin.
I’m proud of you for wanting to be a good leader. By the way, it’s 139 days until Notre Dame’s first 2019 football game. I knew you would want to know.