The epithet “all flash and no dash” can be devastating to a leader’s career. When a leader has been highly successful as an individual contributor, he or she is often baffled about why their team has difficulty delivering results.
Eventually the whole organization suffers because great employees leave weak leaders. Their exit means costs to recruit, hire, and train a replacement. And that cost may be the least of the impact. In the transition, everybody else has to pick up the slack. If the new hire doesn’t work out, the replacement process takes even longer. Translate that to more burnout and more exits.
So let’s start with the premise that a leader’s vague vision can cost a reputation and hard dollars. Such a problem merits key questions of almost anyone in a leadership role:
The Costly Problem of a Leader’s Vague Vision: Key Questions
Can You Communicate Your Vision in Language That’s Actionable?
Is your language precise? Are you painting a clear picture of the end result or goal you want to achieve? Occasionally, that picture may be clearer by communicating what you don’t want your team to deliver. For that reason, the dictionary gives antonyms, along with definitions. Opposites clarify meanings.
Making a goal, project, or mission actionable also involves making it relevant to listeners. What seems clear and actionable to one group of listeners may not be actionable to a different group of listeners. The vision has to relate to their experience and level of knowledge.
For example: “My goal is to turn our customer service here into an unforgettable experience.” That kind of statement might work if you’re talking to a new director of customer service who has formerly worked as a convention meeting planner or maybe a producer at a theme park. But it would be a vague vision for Joe or Joanna, your typical customer service agent.
Can You Communicate Your Vision in Motivating Language?
Examine your word choices. Would you be inspired to work long hours with all your heart to accomplish the goal as expressed? If not, how can you rephrase to emphasize the positive? Even if you’re working to correct a problem, it’s more motivating to “modify,” “improve,” or “expand” something than to “rebuild,” “repair,” or “correct.” The first group of verbs certainly sounds easier and more pleasant to do than the second.
Do You Keep Changing the Hierarchy, Structure, or Processes?
People-shuffling confuses the lines of communication, creates delays, and stalls momentum. When it happens frequently, people often react by stopping work on projects—particularly those that they don’t fully understand or support. They figure if they just stall long enough, they’ll be reporting to someone different and can avoid the distasteful assignment or project altogether.
Do You Keep Moving the Goal Posts?
What are the specific criteria to measure success? What specifically does failure look like? What’s the budget (or at least the range) for accomplishing the goal? What other resources are available? What’s the deadline? Are there precautions you could warn them to take before they become stalled?
Do You Have a Reliable System for Consistent Communication?
What are the check-back points you prefer? Do you have a reliable system for gathering input and giving feedback? Do you expect your team to continue to check in with you about changes in your plans and goals? Or will you be accountable to communicate with them consistently about any change of plans that affect their deliverables and deadlines?
Do You Micromanage Because You Can’t or Don’t Think Strategically?
Micromanagement happens when leaders either can’t or don’t delegate. Do you trust your team? Are they trustworthy? Are they capable? Do you have the skill and the will to delegate to everyone’s advantage? Do you think strategically?
A vague vision, like a fuzzy play called in the huddle, can paralyze a team. It’s difficult to lead people to a place they cannot see, to an understanding you yourself do not have, or to a goal you cannot communicate.
For more thoughts on strategic leadership communication, pre-order Dianna’s new book: Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done (Berrett-Koehler, ships May 1). Click the image below to Pre-Order Communicate Like a Leader!