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Vision is 10%, implementation the rest

We know that leadership is much more than simply articulating the vision. But few leaders give enough attention to implementation.

By Todd Jick 01 December 2001

We all know that vision leadership is much more than simply articulating the vision. But few leaders give enough attention to implementation. 
74ChristianHelpingHands482x271Leaders and their visions are judged by how well they have mobilized commitment, by the extent to which new ways of working have become routinized and by how well the overall culture, including their own behaviour, supports and reinforces their vision.


In interviewing a well-respected Fortune 100 CEO, I asked him to define leadership. His answer was simple, but robust: “Leaders take organizations to places they would not otherwise have gone!” His argument was that the value add of a leader is the ability to redirect the normal course of business by identifying a goal, a model, an approach, something which inertia would not have created, and then – and this is perhaps the most important – to guide and support its actual implementation to get to this “new place”.

The challenge of “vision leadership,” as Domm points out in the next article, is to recognize that the work of achieving such a vision is substantial – much more than most leaders tend to appreciate and do. It goes far beyond the words – and certainly any of the videos, wall plaques or t-shirts. Domm’s research, quite consistent with my observations over many years of companies going through change, underscores that there are no shortcuts in the task of taking an organization to its new place. The “work” of implementation for a leader requires many levers: constant communication, unyielding focus, tangible and realistic supporting actions, aligned rewards and incentives, and a leader’s personal, sincere passion.

But why do we need so many time-consuming levers? Why isn’t the articulation of the vision – loudly, logically, with authority – 90% of the work? And then why isn’t it just a matter of waiting for people to enact it – the final 10%? In my experience, too many leaders do think this is the case. They privately complain that they have given their “vision speech” ad nauseum and can’t imagine why the troops “don’t get it”. However, the troops report to me, privately of course, that they don’t really understand the vision, that they may have heard it only once and can’t quite remember it, and – most importantly – don’t know what to do differently and/or aren’t really that enthusiastic themselves because the benefits aren’t that compelling for them.

It is to overcome these realities that the work of a leader is indeed far more substantial – to truly mobilize commitment, to embed new ways of doing things, and in some instances to change the culture and underlying values of the organization. That’s why, to be successful at vision leadership, the equation is more likely to be 90% on the implementation and only 10% on the articulation.


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