In the 1987 comedy, ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,’ Neal Page (Steve Martin) is joined by an annoying and unwelcome companion, Del Griffith (John Candy), on an epic, three-day travel nightmare, as Neal struggles to get home from New York for Thanksgiving in Chicago, through bad weather and misadventures.
What does this have to do about leadership? And vision in particular?
You’ll be surprised.
When we surveyed managers (High Points Survey*), we discovered one of their most common concerns was about their ability to be visionary, proactive and forward-thinking – “making strategies, goals, and priorities visible and attainable at all levels.”
In Neal’s case, every option, decision, and action was considered in light of where he was, the circumstances he faced, and how his next step could help him get home to Chicago. Even with missteps and obstacles, there was a certain linkage from one move to the next, drawing him ever closer to his objective.
In Del’s case, as I remember the movie, he was just along for the ride. As a happy-go-lucky passenger, Del was glad to go wherever Neal went, running into the same difficulties, feeling the same frustrations, but with no end in mind. He flew on the wings of fate – “Que Sera, Sera.”
Neal had clarity on his destination. Del had none.
As a leader, your vision is your destination.
In most cases, I’m talking less about the creation of specific products or services, and more about developing the “capabilities” of your group, team, agency, company, et al, to meet the demands of the future. Serving your long-term strategic interests requires an on-going enhancement of the human resources (talent) at your disposal. This then becomes the engine which propels your initiatives, overcoming challenges which insert themselves between you and the horizon.
Ask yourself, “What am I trying to build (workforce capabilities)? Where are we going? What are we working toward?”
Determine it. And then, don’t forget it.
Don’t get caught up doing things, and ignore where you’re heading. That was Del’s problem (aimlessness does not mean you’re doing nothing or sitting still … it just means your destiny is completely out of your hands).
Managers fail when they’re unable to link their daily activities with their organizations’ strategic intent.
Next, you must remember to “sustain” the vision.
Reportedly, the director of ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,’ John Hughes, shot over 600,000 feet of film, which is about twice the industry average for a production of this length. Only rigorous editing allowed the movie to keep its focus, not letting the story become bloated, blurred, or lost in the minutia. Moral: rid your management agenda of excess activities that have become diversions, and no longer serve your purpose.
Sustain your vision. Keep it in mind continually! Bring it up, and talk about it. Without its guidance, you’re just like Del. Wandering. Doing one thing, and then another. Busy, but distracted.
Vision should lead the leader.
It’s the only way home.
– Jerry Strom
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This article is based on *‘The High Points Survey: What Managers Most Want to Know about Leadership,’ copyright 2012, by Jerry Strom & Company, Inc. Download the White Paper at: http://www.jerrystrom.com/js_high-points.html