WITHOUTH VISION YOU CANNOT KNOW WHERE YOUR TEAM IS GOING.
Here is a word I really, really like: VISION.
A vivid mental image of the future.
The ability to imagine how things will develop.
The faculty to think about and plan the future with wisdom.
The most successful leaders in any business - in my opinion - are the ones who we call visionaries, who look at the present with an eye on the future, who are able to mentally visualize and understand how things will unfold, who are ahead of their time and are able to unify people under the same purpose.
I wish I could consider myself a visionary, but something I recognize to myself is that I have learned to try and always have some vision in mind when doing any given task.
And one task I am good at doing with vision is team development.
What does it mean to lead your team with a vision? It means having a clear sense of what its - and your - purpose is. It means looking beyond people at the present moment and switch to forward thinking. It means viewing it from a whole versus from a single perspective.
As for everything else, without vision you can walk just one step at the time, identifying and tackling problems as they come along, and seeing people only for what they are capable of right now.
Your team needs much more from you.
By being able to visualize what the future looks like, it's easier to come up with the steps to take in order to get there. By being able to identify what opportunities will possibly present, it's more obvious how to turn them into reality.
Your purpose in your leading role is to look at the bigger picture, identify those opportunities, develop that vision and influence people to follow it.
With that being said, there are few things you can do - starting from a recruiting perspective - to ensure you are trying your best to hire with vision.
How many times have you interviewed someone that reminds you of yourself, that you feel excited about because you know they are going to work with a familiar style and they are going to do exactly what you expect from them?
If you think this is the right approach, think again.
I catch myself sometimes being enthusiastic for people who are similar to me, but I always remember that this is not what I am looking for. I am looking for someone who will be able to balance me out, teach me what I don't know, be good at the things I am not good at.
One of the keys to a successful team is Diversity. What a fantastic word!
When you interview someone, look for the qualities and skills that are needed in your group, not the ones that are already there. You cannot hire the same profile over and over again, or you will risk having everybody being good at the same thing, and missing the other traits that make a team well rounded and well balanced. In order to be successful, a team needs to be diverse, it needs those who are strong with numbers, and those who are creative; it needs those who are organized and analytical, and those who are people oriented; it needs the ones who are very good in the office, and the ones who are very good on the floor. Nobody is competent at everything, but together we balance each other out and we create a powerful team where everyone is valuable for their contribution. That's what makes us great and solid.
The next time you are looking for a new team member, make sure to consider how that person fits in the group, where they can make a difference, what they bring on the table that you are still lacking.
Keeping in mind diversity and balance is the first step to visualize your team as a whole, versus person by person.
The next - and best - thing you can do is avoid stopping at the "now" and look forward, from the first time you talk to someone.
Don't stop at how that candidate is going to perform in the job they have applied for right now. Don't get stuck in what is obvious: of course they need to be able to operate successfully and to meet expectations, of course they need to commit to the role, but what is next?
That's really the important question you need to ask yourself. Does it sound premature to think about what's next when you haven't even hired them yet? Well, it's not, because without knowledge of where one is going next, you will most likely loose them when new opportunities don't open up.
When I talk to someone for the first time - or for the tenth time, I am always trying to assess where they are going afterwards. I am interested in the now, but I am much more interested in the next, because that allows me to see if I have space to make them happy in the long term, keep them motivated, and help them reach their goals.
I always think about the moment they will no longer be excited about this position and they will get bored. How long before they need a new challenge? Am I going to be able to offer that challenge? How long will they stay if I'm not, and will it be worth the time and energy I invest on them?
That same mentality applies to yourself and to the team you already have in place: what is next for you? What is next for them? Who is interested in going in which direction? What opportunities are going to come in the future for the people who are invested in their own development? Are you creating these opportunities? Are you creating that movement?
And most importantly: are you helping those people get there?
One of the most difficult parts of our jobs as leaders is to unlock people's potential.
Going back to the concept of diversity, if you have a team you are for sure dealing with people who have different skills, but also different plans and expectations.
If you have frequent chats with them about the future, you can understand where everybody is right now and where they are trying to go, or learn about those who still do not know.
You are the one to push the people who are reaching for the stars and to help them achieve their goals. You are the one who opens the door for individuals who are afraid to ask or who haven't thought about it. You are the one who suggests the road and who makes people see their potential when they can't see it yet.
And think about the opposite scenario: are people not interested in developing and challenging themselves? Will they occupy a position for a really long time and cause stagnancy in your department? Will they prevent any advancement opportunity for anyone else?
This is a very important point to consider: you don't want stagnancy in your team, you want growth and development. You want movement.
Room for movement sometimes comes on its own, but sometimes it doesn't, and that's where you can step in and think of ways to keep things in motion.
By not having this mindset the risk you run is that of creating a static passive environment where the same people are in the same jobs forever, they no longer have motivation and the department becomes tired.
In this type of environment people certainly know how to do their job, and operations can still run smooth, but there is no drive or desire to improve and innovate.
Your job is to think outside of the box and come up with new ways to ensure that movement continues and your team keeps evolving for the better.
Open new doors, create new space for growth, never stop thinking how to create seats for new people with a fresh perspective.
Find the budget to introduce additional positions. Push the people who are afraid to go for it, or who are too comfortable to make a change; get them outside of their comfort zone and encourage them to step up. Perhaps merge different roles. Perhaps sometimes do what is needed to push a person out, if no longer invested in the team and in themselves.
So how do you develop and encourage that progress?
In my experience an easy exercise is to start from the top: look at the worker who is occupying the highest position and discuss their advancement. When you know what that is, think about where and when that chance will come along. Is there room in the company? Do you need to look at your outside network? Are there opportunities within the desired and appropriate time frame? Is the person ready for it, or what do they need in order to be ready?
The following action is thinking about who could replace them. Is there anyone who could take take over for them? When will they be ready - will the timing work out? Are they interested in it? What do they need to be prepared?
Once you become an expert at this exercise you are going to simply continue with the chain all the way down, and once you have your puzzle figured out, start thinking about how to make the transitions happen effortlessly.
This is why it's crucial to think ahead, to not have to figure it all out last minute.
Instead have a plan and you use the time you have to mentor people, and to prepare the team for the future circumstances. We all know change can be hard and not everyone embraces it, some people are creatures of habit and they will certainly have a difficult time when things are no longer the same. Anticipate a smooth experience.
This is true not only for those who will be spectators of the changing events, but also for those who are directly involved: when you are promoting or moving someone, the best you can do for them is set them up for success. Nobody wants to be rushed into something they are not ready for, people typically are more comfortable and excited when the time is right and when they feel ready for the next step.
The so called "step longer than the leg" is stressful and burdensome on some of us.
And finally, don't forget about a vision for yourself: are you ready for your next move? Is that opportunity available for you? Is the timing right? What have you done for your team, are they going to have a difficult time in your absence? Are there going to be gaps - potentially for longer periods of time?
When looking at your own plan for the future, you must think about what that will mean for your people and what that transition will look like: if you feel like your team is going to suffer, you haven't done your homework properly.
Your best strategy is to prepare your successor.
Look internally first (it's no secret that promoting within is always the best move), identify who has the potential to take over for you and - once again - use the time to get them ready. When leaving a job and a team you have worked so hard for, there is no better feeling than knowing it will be in good hands and your legacy will continue.
What does that show about you? That you do think ahead and look at the future with wisdom, that you do know how to imagine a process and how it will unfold, that you certainly are ready to take that next step, because you do have vision.