How Leaders Can Balance Vision and Reality

Dr. John Townsend

March 25, 2015

As a leader, are you able balance vision with reality?

Your organization requires you to have great vision for the future but it also needs your hard-nosed reality orientation. Great leaders know that if you bring in reality too early people become disheartened and discouraged.

One way to stifle vision with too much reality is to micromanage your people. They will respond in various ways as I discuss in this video.

The best leaders can integrate their vision with reality.

I love when leaders have great visions because:

  • Organizations flourish when you show them how the company can capture another market, or perform at a new and unheard-of level.
  • Teams are catalyzed to high-level action with good visions.
  • At the same time, when you help teams face the negative, they are protected and stay sustainable with reality, not afraid to face financial, market, competitive or other obstacles.

For example, take team meetings.  We all know that the marketing person must present first at the team meeting. Then the financial expert must say what is in the budget, and what is not.  That simply makes sense.  But that is not enough for a great leader.  The best leaders I know and work with are able to do both tasks themselves, and integrate them.

  • They know that you must start with vision, as it is the primary source of energy, focus and loyalty.
  • They  practice the habit of bringing struggles, challenges and limitations to the conversation, instead of avoiding them, because they know that companies make bad decisions and experience empty promises when the problems aren’t brought up at the right time.
  • They don’t in reality too early – before they have time for the vision to capture them, to engage with it, and to become emotionally committed to it.

I often hear from a leader, “I am the visionary.  I set the pace and see the big picture.  I’m not the analyst or the CFO.  I leave that work to them.”  And less so, but still more than I’d like, I also hear from other leaders, “I  keep reality in front so that we are always aware of it, and don’t end up with positive thinking that keeps us from having substance, and puts us in danger of missing important data points.”  Certainly, leaders can’t do it all. They need to hire and resource great analysts, financial people, and creative innovative talent as well.  But that doesn’t mean you aren’t still casting vision and interpreting reality.  Your people don’t need to see this bipolar-type leadership modeled for them, the unrealistic visionary or the head-down nothing-but-ops person.

  • You need to be a mixture of both of these traits.
  • You need to know when they need to be inspired to go beyond themselves with a story, or your own enthusiasm, or by guiding theirs.
  • And you need to know when it’s time for them to buckle down and persevere, doing follow up and diligently working the plan.

Here is the best practice:  Before 5pm every day, bring something visionary to someone in your organization.  And, before 5pm,  face a tough reality with someone, either something the company is experiencing, something you are struggling with, or a problem they have.  Make that a goal.  It doesn’t have to be the same person.  But it must come from you as the integrated leader.

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