Thoughts and Reactions to Simon Sanek’s Post on New Leaders Stepping into Difficult Situations
For those that don’t know about Simon Sanek, he’s described as “a visionary thinker with a rare intellect” Sanek teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people. Simon is probably best known for his TED talk that focuses organizations on the concept of “Why”. At Aspirent, we made this a central theme in our inaugural annual meeting last year.
Here are some of my thoughts and reactions to an article that Simon recently posted on his blog – Re:Focus titled “4 Essential Tips for New Leaders Stepping Into a ‘Damned-If-You-Do-Damned-If-You-Don’t’ Job”
He relates the concepts for new leaders on a current event: Teresa May stepping in as the new Prime Minister for the UK in a post-Brexit world. However, the lessons that I’d like to highlight from this article are applicable to all leaders that are stepping into new, and highly visible roles. It is especially relevant for leaders that are picking up where others left off.
- Establish the Vision! – “Most leaders don’t properly articulate a vision…. A true vision paints a clear picture of what the world could look like if everything goes perfectly. It is an ideal. And for it to inspire people to act, that vision has to describe a world that would benefit an outside population”. “Too many leaders think the plan is more important than the vision. The reality however, is the complete opposite. A plan is uncertain, changeable and sometimes flawed. It is the vision that must be immovable, fixed and inspiring”. As a practitioner in the discipline of Program and Project execution, I know how essential it is to help my clients construct rational plans. However, those plans are utterly useless if a vision is not established. Too often, I have seen project managers attempting to create a plan when the project goals/objectives and even the concept/vision is not clear. A plan is a piece of the puzzle, it isn’t the puzzle itself.
- Enlist your People to Contribute – “Once the vision is clear, an effective leader asks those who believe to find ways to help advance towards that vision. Weak are the leaders who promise to carry the people, carry the company or carry a nation. And the reason is simple. It’s a promise they can’t keep”. The concept of delegation infers that one is distributing the responsibilities of one person to several people. What Simon is saying here is the responsibility of a leader is first and foremost to establish the vision. The next, and equally important task, is to enlist a team. If people have bought into the vision, then the responsibility to execute the vision is a shared one; it doesn’t belong on one person’s shoulders. The most successful leaders are the ones that are most adept in creating and motivating high performing teams.
- Listen to the Meaning and not the Literal Words – “What good leaders do is work to understand the reason why the people are asking for what they are asking for”. Ah, there it is! The concept of “why”. A leader must ask “why” – understand the underlying reason behind the outcome. The article points out that Teresa May, as the newly appointed Prime Minister of must understand why the people of Britain voted to leave the EU. The people of Britain felt like they were being ignored, and they felt insecurity about their future. They really didn’t understand the full implications of leaving the EU – as mentioned in the article “the number of Google searches after the vote for ‘what is the EU’ is a clue”. You will find parallels to this type of a scenario in the business world, and the lesson for leaders is to not just say “yes” to the literal words of the people, but to understand the reason behind it.
- Devote Yourself to the Vision – “When any leader sees their contribution to us and the vision as primary, even if it costs them an election, a bonus or a promotion – then and only then will that leader have the people”. Simon offers a leadership style that is ingrained in servitude to the vision. We have heard of the concept of a servant-leader, which implies that the leader is offering servitude to the people. The trap there is that the leader may feel compelled to just be a “yes” person, agreeing with the literal words without understanding the meaning. However, true leadership is showing people the vision and then being a servant to the vision, even if it means sacrificing their personal gains. Ultimately, people follow leaders that define reality and communicate a clear, easy to understand vision.
– Kashif Choudry, Principal & Founding Member