I’m often asked, what are the key traits that make a great leader? That question always brings up a lot of discussion, but I believe one of the qualities that makes a truly great leader stand out is the ability to create a vision of the future they want to achieve as well as being able to communicate that vision to their team. Leaders who can visualize and communicate a clear, specific end state can then entrust their team members to perform in their specific roles with that end state in mind. This gives the team members opportunities to take initiative without needing to ask permission on every little detail from the team leader. The alternative is that you will be spending a lot of time checking in on them about small tasks and not staying focused on how the individual pieces come together to form the whole.
Having a vision should not be confused with the mission or goals you are trying to accomplish. Your mission may not actually be an outcome you have chosen; it may be an initiative that your boss has assigned you or a project that has been requested by a customer. Whether the task is one that you have chosen or not, you’ll want to formulate a vision of what the end state looks like in your own mind before you attempt to take any action. The vision doesn’t need to be grandiose, but it should be based upon completing all of the mission requirements as well as reflecting the intangible qualities such as the work preferences or style of the users.
So you don’t feel like you’re a visionary? Fear not, vision, like many leadership qualities, can be developed and not something that lucky individuals are born with. Chances are you have developed a vision in the past and executed on it, you just didn’t think about it in those terms. Here are some questions to ask yourself next time you take on a project to help develop your vision:
- What are the mission requirements? Is the mission a problem that needs to be solved? An improvement on something that is already pretty good but you’d like to improve it? What are the actual, factual, non-emotional requirements to meet the need?
- Who is the mission being completed for? Is it your boss? A customer? An end user who is not your boss or customer, but is represented by them on this issue?
- How should the end product look physically? What appealing traits would you like the end product to have? Are there feeling or emotions that you want the end product to evoke in the customer/user? If not a physical end product, what do you believe would be most satisfying to the customer or end user when the mission is completed?
- What is the quality of work that you expect from your team on this project? Are they already capable of performing at this level? Will they need additional skills or improvement in the skills they already have? How much initiative and creativity would you like them to apply? Are they used to the degree of freedom you envision?
- What are the time and resource constraints? Are there elements that you would really like to include in your vision, but may need to sacrifice due to these constraints?
- How will you communicate the answers to all of these questions to your team?
Remember that vision is a very personal thing. Everyone will see the outcome a little differently in their head if given room to interpret their own vision using the same facts and parameters. Also, while your vision of a successful outcome is personal, it is important that you re able to communicate your vision to your team so that they can execute it. Great leaders are the ones who can see their own vision and get them to buy into it!
Discussion Question: What other key traits do you believe great leaders possess?
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