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Sharpen your leadership vision one shell at a time

May 23, 2013

By Sarah Le Roy

The vision you need to lead teams is similar to the vision you need to uncover the elusive Scaphella Junonia on the beach.

When we were on vacation a few weeks ago, my daughter and I walked the beach looking for shells. She’s a keen-eyed eight-year-old, so finding small objects isn’t hard. Yet the shells I found were consistently “better” than hers. Why? Well, some might say….experience. I’ve been hunting for shells on that stretch of Florida beach a lot longer than she has. I also learned the technique from my father who was super competitive, skillful, and extremely knowledgeable. But, experience is only part of it.

In fact, knowing what the best/prettiest/most rare shells actually look like, and then learning how to differentiate—to “see”—those shells on a beach composed of shells (rather than more foot-friendly sand) is where it all starts. The best “shellers” know what they are looking for, and they know how to “see.” They can pick out the perfect shells from all the bleached, broken bits of flotsam.

So, what does walking the beach and looking for shells have to do with leading high-performance teams? At some point, these “high performance” shellers were taught how to look and what to look for—clearly and explicitly. Without giving clear direction, your people simply cannot execute your vision.

Just as a good sheller needs to be able to “see” the best shells on a beach strewn with broken ones, a successful team leader needs to be able to “see” exactly what needs to be done (among days filled with meetings, text messages, and endless email), and the best team leaders are able to express very precisely what the vision is. I am fond of saying that good leaders are able to articulate “what good looks like.”  It doesn’t really matter what it is you are looking for—shells or penetrating a new market—conceptually different yes, but the ideas are the same. Know what you are looking for. Be very explicit with your people and get them excited about “finding or achieving it.”

How do you teach yourself and then help others to “see” so that you all can share in the collective vision? It’s very simple really. You first need to make the time to actually form a vision for yourself of what needs to be done. Spend the time to really think about the problem and ignore the voice that tells you “I don’t have time” to think about this. We all operate in a high-stakes, results-driven, it-has-to-be-done-by-now world, but you must learn to ignore that external noise and focus. Because without clarity, you will find it impossible to get buy-in or worse yet, understanding from your people.

And if you don’t know what your vision is, or your can’t communicate it to your team, all you (and they) will ever see are miles and miles of broken, bleached-out ideas. But when you and your team share the same, well-honed vision, you’ll be able to “see” and execute the solution with remarkable speed. You’ll break into that new market, get the product launched, or achieve the ultimate victory and uncover the elusive Scaphella Junonia.

Does your team know what your vision is? Do you? Click here if you’re not sure.

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