Last week, the Harvard Business Review published an article “Why Visionary Leadership Fails

The conclusions will resonate with the rank and file of most organizations:

  • Visionary leadership is essential but breaks down when middle managers don’t understand or buy into the vision.
  • Companies that invest in “visionary” skills for middle managers often make things worse.

These findings are consistent with mine and those of my 250+ professional EOS colleagues.

We find that when a leadership team sets a vision and can’t get the rest of the organization on board, the first place to look is within the leadership team itself! Leaders often don’t play well as a team, frequently more loyal to their troops than their colleagues, and thus not always working for the greater good.

As goes the leadership team, so goes the rest of the organization.

Make no mistake, having a strong vision is critical for success, and absolutely all companies have vision. It’s true of the smallest entrepreneurial organization and the largest multi-national public company. But success can’t be achieved without first getting all leaders 100% on the same page with the vision; crystal clear on where the organization is going and how they are going to get there.
At a former company, I once brought the leadership team together to set a vision. We met off-site at a luxury hotel. It was an exhilarating, emotionally draining experience, that started to fall apart the moment we left the room. First went the core values, then the core focus, then the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)! We all had one foot in the greater good, but the other solidly with our individual teams.

As went the leadership team, so went the rest of the organization.

Now as a Professional EOS Implementer, I follow the practice set by my colleagues and teach “Traction” first, “Vision” second. We first get the leadership team aligned; with the right people in the right seats, working together as a cohesive team. They are then freed to have the intense, intellectual debates required to reach an agreement. With each leader’s role clear, the vision becomes realistic and believable.
With leaders in agreement, their next responsibility is to be good parents. That means sharing the vision with all, repeating it often and being consistent. The associates and partners in the organization need to hear the message an average of seven times to internalize it and want to be a part of it. When the rank and file go from having the vision shared “with” them, to shared “by” them, everyone starts rowing in the same direction and ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things.

The lesson from the HBR article is clear. Before investing in visionary skills for middle managers, first, get the leadership team all on the same page. More vision doesn’t help, getting the leaders to first agree on the vision does.