The Empty Plinth™: Look within to achieve your vision

Steel Wool Image by Faizal Sugi from Pixabay

In the first two blogs in this series, I explained why leaders simply must realise their great ambitions if they and their businesses are to thrive. And I looked at the external drivers that can propel them to success.

This final part looks within the business, at the necessary conditions to delivering a big, bold vision.

The questions that need to be asked here are both simple and high level yet penetrating and specific to for each set of circumstances. There are three parts to these questions. Every business leader needs to be clear on what the potential for the business is, the reasons why it may be falling short and, crucially, what to do about it.

Vision and People

A business’s potential must be reflected in any great vision. The ability to deliver and maintain it, however, then needs to be thought through in the context of the people working there, their capabilities, and how they use the other assets they have for the best outcome.

The interweaving of vision and people is a crucial first step.

At Skein, we’ve learned much over the years about both. A leader can only manage the business and deliver the vision successfully by managing the people; and these people are the ones who can – and must – go to extraordinary lengths to turn this vision into a reality.

Any leader with big goals, however, first needs to look within. He or she needs to understand clearly why a business is not performing as it should. How can he or she do this effectively?

Start with where you are, right now

Every leader needs to understand where the business’s people and all other assets are in the present.

They need to ask themselves – fearlessly – some difficult questions, such as:

  • Whether they have the right people and structure in place.
  • What the core competencies of their key people are right now.
  • Whether their people are not only competent but also engaged and involved in their roles.
  • If their individual and collective mindset is ready for a much better outcome. Or is failure still an option?

The leader’s own role in achieving the vision, too, must begin with self-awareness.

We worked closely with one senior female leader who had previously worked in aggressive male-dominated workplaces. When she became their leader, she behaved in a similarly combative manner with her colleagues.

Over time, her self-awareness grew. She realised that she had become her own worst enemy, hindering rather than helping the business to progress towards its vision. When a leader has self-awareness, they can take the business anywhere. But if they don’t, they get stuck.

Alongside people’s behaviour, comes a technical assessment of where a business is at present, and what needs to be different. At Skein, we know that it can be very hard for many otherwise willing people to embrace a vision, let alone deliver on it, unless their leader can start talking specifically about what this means for them in practice.

He or she needs to make sure people clearly understand, amongst other things:

  • The processes and changes that they need to go through.
  • How to apply their specific skills – and to remove or repair anything getting in the way.
  • Whether the business has the specific assets they need in the first place to move forward.

In our view, Skein is the only consultancy that helps clients to drive their great ambitions from both a behavioural and technical perspective. This attention to detail for both may be one reason we are prospering in sectors where precision is highly valued, such as mining and pharmaceuticals. 

Bring the vision closer

Once the full potential of a business and the realities of the present are both understood, it’s much easier to see what needs to happen next. The key issues at stake then become things such as:

  • What the core competencies of the key people driving the vision will need to be.
  • How to pick the right tasks in the right order – and hold people accountable.
  • How to ask the right questions at the right time to make sure that progress continues.

Any leader on this journey additionally needs to make sure that all their people also understand the value of their contribution.

We worked with one business leader who would only do his general manager’s performance review once he had exhaustively taken soundings from everyone around the business who worked for him. To have the fullest possible perspective in this way meant that the leader could talk clearly about what that person needed to do to enhance his contribution. And it also reinforced the loyalty and respect of everyone who worked for that organisation.

In summary, any business leader with a big vision needs to be very clear about three things.

Firstly, that not only can they rise to the challenge, but they must.

Secondly, they must look externally and become highly attuned to the “big picture” environment and what it means for their ambitions.

And finally, they must look internally, to align the vision with people, be clear on the behavioural and technical necessities for success – and, crucially, see clearly what those bold first steps on the journey will need to be.

Skein Advisory identifies and implements the changes needed to achieve strategic goals and financial results. Our expert advisory services are based on decades of experience at senior levels and contemporary research and analysis.

Tom Aldridge