When I was growing up, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to be, but I knew what I wanted it to look like: suit, “clicking” shoes, coffee in hand and lots of people clamoring for my attention.
Fast forward 20+ years. I do always have coffee, but the people clamoring for my attention are typically under three feet tall and the suit and shoes have been swapped out for leggings and slippers.
While visually things might not stack up exactly as I had imagined, in a lot of ways I am living the leadership vision I had set for myself: I run my own business and can use my values to make decisions, I am able to have a positive impact through my work, and I get to spend my time in relationship with others.
This is not an article advocating for starting your own business, though I have plenty of thoughts on that. This is a post about leadership vision, and the essential role it plays in success.
Vision. Where are we going? What does it look like? What’s possible when we get there?
My bet is that you spent a fair amount of time thinking about this as a kid. You might still. Most likely though, somewhere along the way or for certain moments in time, you peel back. Maybe because that wide-eyed optimism was swapped out for realistic pessimism? You know too much? You’re too busy to think about it? Maybe you’re afraid it’s unattainable? Maybe it just seems so obvious, or conversely, so murky? I get it.
The thing is, without a sense of where you’re going and perhaps most importantly, who you want to be when you are there, it’s pretty hard to move forward.
With my clients, this is one of the most common things that comes up in our work together. What do I want, and how do I get there? Sometimes this is about personal transitions — roles you are looking to take on, career moves you want to make, or new industries you want to enter into. Other times this is about business, team, or organizational decisions and priorities. Regardless the context, the question is really the same — what does success look like, for me?
My own personal experiences switching careers from nonprofit management to startup people ops to running a coaching business, as well as my work with lots of high achieving leaders navigating uncertainty, has lead me to the belief that having a leadership vision for yourself, not too dissimilar to the one you probably dreamed up when you were a kid, is one of the most important, foundational tools for any leader to have. At the end of the day, our vision for ourselves and who we want to be is one of the only things that is entirely within our control. As a result, it is one of our most powerful and empowering tools. Without it, you’re floating in space.
Let me share two examples of how I’ve seen this play out, and the power a vision for yourself can have.
A client of mine had been a very strong individual contributor for years. Recognized for good work, he was promoted to manager and oversaw a large sales department. Many of his direct reports were former peers and his day to day responsibilities shifted from doing work to managing people. Without a ton of support to navigate this transition (which is unfortunately quite common for folks stepping into management and leading lea) he was feeling overwhelmed. Banging his head against the wall, he became demotivated, and so did his team.
When I asked him what was his vision for himself as a manager and how he measured his own success, he admitted that really, he was just trying to not do any harm. Backing up, we played out together how if he saw his job as “don’t do any harm” what would that mean for how he showed up and led his team?
It was as inspiring as a dead mouse.
We worked on clarifying his values, the things that are unique to him and what he cares most about as a person and as a leader. We imagined what his team members would say about his leadership and how he wanted to feel about the work they were producing. We played in the future, quieting the doubtful voice that so frequently creeps in when we take on larger leadership roles and responsibilities, and created a vision for what he wants and who he wants to be as a leader. As a result, he was able to communicate this to his team, get feedback and buy-in from those he works with, and not only turn the ship around but have an anchor to return to when the sea gets rocky.
While having a leadership vision is crucial as a people manager, it’s also essential as an entrepreneur, especially solopreneur. The ups and downs of navigating a business can be incredibly taxing. A client of mine has felt this acutely — being the sole decision maker and master of your time can be liberating, but also debilitating. How do you keep going through the hustle, highs, and lows? How do you stay motivated when things seem bleak?
These questions were weighing her down, and she needed to find a way to remind herself of what she really wants. Turns out, she did have a very clear picture of what she wanted for herself and what success looked like, but hadn’t connected with it in a long time. We worked together to paint this leadership vision down to the last detail and the physical sensations associated with this level of clarity, confidence and direction. With some simple tools to serve as reminders, she is now able to get back to this place when she feels like she is drifting out to sea.
This resulted in a stronger ability to prioritize what’s most important and act confidently, allowing her to secure a dream client.
I’ve found that people often feel like they need to have every single detail of their leadership vision worked out for it to be powerful, especially if this is being used for career transitions or transitions into new leadership responsibilities. While a certain level of clarity is important, the reason it is important is so that it’s personal and authentic, not so that you have it all figured out. Start with your values, and what it looks like to lead with those. Get feedback from people you trust. Focus on where you want to go, and who you want to be.
This isn’t a right or wrong thing, good or bad. It’s you, and it’s a key ingredient to your success and fulfillment.