What is your Vision?
Sure, we got a pretty good Vision and Mission statement for the company. We even have our Core Values and we take them very seriously. Everyone joining the company has to go through a one-week orientation programme…
Hey, I got to go for a meeting!
Oh! You are talking about My Vision. Well, let me finish the project first. We are already delayed by three months!
Can we take up this topic in our next offsite? You know, it fits such an environment, the resort we are going to is just the ideal location to reflect, envision the future and come back fully charged…to get the numbers back in line by next quarter!
In my interactions with senior managers over the years, whether as a practising manager or later as an Executive Coach | Growth Facilitator, few buzzwords unfailingly wormed their way into our deliberations:
Strategy, Vision, Execution, Competitive Advantage, Leadership and Management.
Another constant has been the requirement in every forum to qualify these words despite they being as aged as the word Manager. Mind you, the need was never due to the lack of intelligence or experience of the managers I was interacting with. It was rather to facilitate their thoughts to find application of these buzzwords in their respective contexts and priorities. I made myself go through the same, as I took on more and more complex responsibilities in my journey as a manager. In this piece, my intention is not to go into the qualifications, but to look at the ‘inclination to use’ these incorrigible words by senior managers in their contexts and priorities.
When arranged as per the preferred inclination to use by most managers, I found them latching on to three of the buzzwords with ease (in the order given below). The key aspects that their minds associated these words with are given alongside:
- Execution – Processes, systems, tools, technology, machines, headcount, etc. (details that answer How, with What, Who and When the execution will take place)
- Competitive Advantage – Important for presentations during strategy meetings but that is not what you deal with in your everyday work. It is already set! (by whom is not a question most find healthy to discuss).
- Leadership – Great topic; everyone wants to talk about it in offsites and most volubly when concerning others – like icons, case studies – uncomfortable when the focus is brought on to oneself (alas! but, that is where leadership begins).
It was not that they did not like to use the other three buzzwords, but I found most managers doing that when tasked to do so. Now, by definition, senior managers have a much bigger responsibility than others for the other three, namely, Strategy, Vision and Management. Then why does one find most not inclined to use them for their own contexts. One reason could be that these three buzzwords do not get worked upon in the daily practice of managerial life. Surely, what managers are involved in on a daily basis is Execution and that too with hardly any change decisions to be made for the constituents, their minds associate it with. Obviously, one does not need to change processes, systems, tools, technology, machines or headcount every week or for that matter, every quarter.
If you do not use something regularly, like dialling someone’s telephone number, you do not remember it. In fact, you do not even feel the need to remember your mother’s phone number. In the world of Smartphones and Outlook, they are just available whenever you need it. Have the words Strategy, Vision and Management also suffered the same fate as your mother’s phone no? available for reference when needed. It is another question how often a senior manager feels the need for dialling his or her mother. It may sound cruel, but dare I say that a senior manager may need to dial Strategy, Vision & Management more often than their mother, at least when at their workplace. And that is where most managers spend 80% of their waking time; mentally if not physically.
The other reason for the reticence in managers to use the above buzzwords is related to what is practised as Managerial Work. The fact that it has never been written down, taught or celebrated keeps it away from the focus it merits. It does not get the respect it deserves because managerial work does not appear as decorated as the feeling one associates with the celebrations that follow when one earns the title as a manager. When you ask yourself as a manager, what is that I do on a weekly basis and pen this managerial work down, you may come up with something similar to the items listed below. I have also put the % of time that possibly gets allocated to these tasks by default (averages from my observations):
- Monitoring plans and results (5%)
- Responding to Changes from unknown/unplanned quarters (5%)
- Rushing from one meeting to another with your team, peers from other functions, management, customers, suppliers, etc. (55%)
- Managing conflicts and motivating your team members (35%)
- Reading, choosing when to respond, drafting replies to scores of mails from the same stakeholders (25%; after all else is done – in so called personal time)
- And if lucky enough, finding time to find your own motivation to go back to work every day (0 to 5%)
No wonder, the senior manager is a stressed mortal working 12 to 14 hours a day, since one requires at least 125% of the work day! Could that be one reason why senior managers are not ‘inclined to use’ words like Vision or Strategy?
I would not go into how a manager could make their work day more efficient and end with not more than 105% utilisation. I do know of some who have learnt that trick, happily. They have developed a strategy to handle the above managerial work with aplomb. And that is what I normally refer to as the art of management, performed with managerial knowledge by those in the profession of management. But, that is for another piece or a coaching session.
I ask you to rather think of that one thing that helps us to tackle the ‘b’ to ‘f’ items of managerial work. The following questions may help identify that from within yourself:
- Does your explicit knowledge mastered over years in your functional domain help in managing these ‘managerial tasks’? I am sure, you do manage them successfully too, at times. What kind of knowledge makes you do that?
- What is it that makes you sit through meetings where rarely any conclusion or decision is arrived at? More importantly, what makes you contribute (at least, try to) in these meetings?
- What makes you manage conflicts amongst your team members or with your peers across other functions?
- What makes you haul yourself up at the end of a typical managerial day with the desire to go back at it the next morning?
It is not the money or your functional expertise or domain experience or what you learnt at the University or could buy from somebody similar, masquerading as a management consultant!
It is your sense of ‘Purpose’!
Even if you do not have it written down on the wall facing you, it is that subconscious marriage to your Purpose that makes you navigate through all that you must face, day after day as a manager. This purpose comes from what we have negotiated with our minds to attain or achieve in a context, in this case not merely our job but our responsibility to capture all that could be possible – the potential. And that is not finite like short term KPIs; surely not for the role of a senior manager.
This sense of purpose comes easier and with clarity when we have a Vision, the buzzword most managers are least inclined to use. The muted inclination owes a lot to the word itself. Managers are groomed to achieve short term KPIs, not some hazy, cloudy vision of theirs. Managers are trained to not indulge in day dreaming but be focused on the next milestone and then the next; lap after lap after lap. But when you become a ‘senior’ manager, you are required to create growth not just achieve the already ‘known and planned’ milestones. You are told that you need to think out of the box after being tamed to live in a box. Managers in normal organisations are trained not to exercise leadership but as you don the hat of a senior manager you are sent off to offsites to learn leadership, develop your vision and strategy to execute the same.
It is a bit unfair. But, who cares. You need to, to flourish as a senior manager and be happy. You have no option but to lead yourself!
Vision is a very complicated word. To unravel it for oneself is the task of a leader since a leader must lead oneself. Without a vision, an individual either follows someone else’s vision or blunders around. Following another’s vision does not make anyone lesser if you too have taken ownership of the same vision. Else, you need to be motivated to fulfil another’s expectations. A motivational engagement lasts as long as the source of motivation. If it is not your own vision or purpose, chances are quite bleak for the vision to be fulfilled. At the end of the day, for a senior manager or a leader to master the art of management, fulfilling someone else’s expectations is not the way in or out. Managerial Work requires the development and practice of ‘tacit knowledge’ as opposed to the ‘explicit knowledge’ one gains over the years working in a certain domain or function as a champion ‘doer’.
And this tacit knowledge is acquired when following one’s own vision or purpose.
To develop your own Vision, one needs to answer the question ‘Why’ first and then scamper off to the easier ones, ‘How, with What, by Whom, When, etc’. Once a manager is convinced about Why something must be done or achieved, one transforms from a designated Manager to a Leader, a true Senior Manager who leads through the context or changes the context to attain the objective. The driver becomes conviction, from within not without. It is a Leader’s Conviction that leads you to make Choices and take Decisions. It is not the data or analysis that leads the manager to execute difficult choices. It is not the expectation of some gain, reward, recognition or fear of losing, that makes a senior manager lead many others to persevere through all kinds of hurdles and challenges. It is the Purpose and Conviction that leads to volitional engagement.
Vision is the mother crystal of leadership with three beautiful facets – Purpose, Decisioning and Volitional Engagement. Once owned by a Manager, it transforms you into a Leader hunting for growth through the mists of uncertainty and ambiguity!