In his classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey relates a parable about the importance of vision and leadership: A group of machete-wielding workers are cutting a path through dense jungle. It is hard, hot work. After some time, a leader climbs a tall tree to take a bearing. He discovers that the workers have drifted off course and calls down to them, “Stop cutting, you are going in the wrong direction.” And the workers reply, “Shut up. We are making progress.”
In business we risk losing our vision if, like the machete crew, we do not take a bearing from time-to-time. This is strategic planning. Leaders risk creating resistance if we do not sell the vision with open and frequent communication. From the perch at the top of the tree, the “what, why and how” of a strategic vision is obvious. However, team members may interpret a new vision as unwelcome change and extra work. Without additional coaching about its importance, as well as how it will be accomplished, a new vision can trigger resistance among team members. No matter how noble the new, there is a tendency to maintain the status quo.
Successful salespeople understand that the best time to deal with resistance is before it comes up – by addressing the benefits and advantages of the product or service for the client. Visionary leaders use similar selling skills to engage the team with the purpose of the vision. They support team members with appropriate training, coaching and resources. Although this takes time and energy, the potential for resistance disappears when team members are engaged. Authoritarian management may seem like a shortcut, but it only leads to a dead-end of deeper resistance and employee disengagement.
A skilled leader, like a skilled salesperson, invests first in relationships to create future results. Successful leaders use sales skills to engage the team as partners, who willingly offer their efforts to visions they value. Real engagement occurs because the leader invests every effort in actively promoting the “what, why, and how” of the vision. Visions lose their power when they are poorly promoted. There is no such thing as over-selling your vision.