The world is rapidly changing, and it’s only going to get faster. Information access is the highest it’s ever been. The speed at which the world communicates, spreads ideas and markets is blinding. The resources available for people to build businesses, compete in the market space, or just be heard are immense. In order for a company to have longevity in this landscape it needs to be agile so that it can seize opportunities in real time as they appear. This is easier for small, lean companies, but can get very difficult as that company grows. That is why we want to introduce Vision Based Leadership. This is something we are not claiming to have invented, we are taking a military leadership philosophy called Mission Command and applying it to any organization. We named it Vision Based Leadership as it is leadership heavily guided by the leader’s vision and intent. The military application of this is to make the battle formations agile, quick to react, and task tailored, which is key when dealing with insurgencies and terrorists or a quickly developing environment. A good way to picture the effects of Vision Based Leadership is a marketing team working different parts of the problem. Each person has the initiative, training and the authority to capitalize on any opportunity to gain that slight edge for their client, beating out the client’s competitors. All while the leader has coordinated all their efforts to achieve maximum effect. They do not have to ask for permission, they know exactly what they have to achieve and are empowered to do so.
Vision Based Leadership (VBL) is based on guiding and empowering your people to make decisions in their lane. Vision Based Leaders focus on the ‘why’ and the ‘what,’ while leaving the ‘how’ up to the people doing the job. This allows them to use their own deliberate initiative to solve problems, seize opportunities and achieve goals based on the organization’s vision. VBL isn’t usually easy to incorporate for a lot of untrained leaders as it requires a few things: a clearly communicated vision; a well-trained team; your trust in your team; their trust in you; clear guidelines, constraints and achievable end states; and the resources for them to get the job done. This can’t be done if you’re poor at communication, don’t have trust in your people or aren’t able to plan for and support your team in getting the job done.
For VBL to be effective you, as the leader, need to accept risk. This means allowing your people to make mistakes and learn from them. This is the cost of delegation, or even better, the investment into your team’s effectiveness. This is a good thing. This is how they will grow and learn. This doesn’t mean accepting all risk, it’s accepting the necessary risk to achieve the end state. Knowing this will empower your people to take the initiative and make decisions. How often do you think people will stick their neck out to do something if they feel that they will get their head chopped off every time it doesn’t go well? Your people need to have trust in you that this will not happen. You mitigate the risk by ensuring your people are properly trained and resourced for the tasks at hand.
One of the key reasons why this philosophy of leadership is poised for success is that the people at the lower tactical levels have a better understanding of what’s going on the ground compared to the higher leadership echelons. They will better understand the opportunities, heart beat and problems at this level. That is why as long as they understand what the organization is trying to achieve, are well trained and well resourced, they will be able to take timely and effective action. This is a stark contrast from having to run every decision up the chain of command with a centralized resource model.
To apply VBL you need to have big metaphorical shoulders as the leader and trust in your people. You are ultimately responsible for every learning opportunity (mistake) that occurs under your watch because you are responsible for employing them and ensuring they are ready. This decentralized leadership structure requires a lot of work up front by the leader. You need to ensure that you have sufficiently trained your people, and that you have very clearly communicated the vision, mission, constraints and limitations that will set up the guidelines for your people. VBL requires a leader to be very proactive rather than reactive.
Vision Based Leadership is the evolution of leadership. It requires the best out of you and your team. It’s amazing to see it in action when done right. This is the philosophy that best suites speed, growth and versatility; the building blocks of organization agility.
Biren Bandara, BSC, CD