Catching the Bus

Hi there, Martin again this month.


Elizabeth and I often find two of the most commonly used terms when it comes to leadership are ‘Vision’ and ‘Strategy’ and we think it’s fair to say people interpret them very differently and at times can make them so much more complicated than they actually are.  So we thought we’d share with you our practical perspective on these two terms.


But before that I want to take you back…..


I remember a time during the school holidays (before cheap foreign holidays were even possible) when my Mum and Dad would pile my sister and I into the car and head off for a day trip somewhere, anywhere to keep us amused.  Often this involved going on a long journey and my Mum would sit in the front passenger seat and unfold one of those big paper maps to find out exactly where we were going, (this was long before the days of technology and Sat Navs!)  After marking our destination on the map my Mum would find out where our street was and start to plan our route.


So what have my fond memories of school holiday day trips with my family have to do with leadership, and more importantly “vision and strategy”?


Let’s look at the “vision” bit first.


Prior to getting into the car Mum and Dad had clearly talked about where it was they wanted to take us, as Mum’s first job was to mark it on the map.  She was earmarking our end destination and for us this is a simple definition of a ‘vision’.  As a leader, you need to have a really clear idea of where you want to go, a goal to aim for, a destination in mind or a clear picture of the desired state you want to achieve.   That way you’ll know when you reach it.


Of course to be truly effective a vision it should resonate with all members of the organisation, team or function to which it applies; and help them feel proud, excited and part of something much bigger.  Importantly it also needs to be measurable and quantifiable.


If my Mum and Dad had decided to take my sister and I to a lecture on the social impact of classical music in the 20th century then we would hardly have been excited to go and probably wouldn’t have even got in the car in the first place.


Ok, so if the Vision is the end destination, what is a strategy?


Let’s go back to my family in the car again.  Having marked our destination on the map, my Mum’s next job was to pin point our starting point and then work out the route of how to get from our house to wherever it was we were going.


Often this would involve at least one stop at a service station along the way for that much needed caffeine injection, inevitable toilet break or to replenish the bag of sweets my sister and I had successfully munched our way through.


In simple terms that route was her “strategy” – the exact details of how to achieve the “vision”.  An effective strategy should detail the exact steps required to shape the future, with some key milestones clearly marked so that progress can be checked, enabling an organisation, team or function to reach the desired state.


So the “Vision” is the end destination and the “strategy” is the route-map that will get you there.


However there is still one huge challenge that a leader needs to overcome before they can successfully begin their journey.


I’d like to take you back to my childhood car journey one final time.  You see, as I said earlier after my mum had found our destination on the map the very next thing she would do, before anything else and certainly before planning the route would be to pinpoint where we were starting from.


Only when you know for certain where you are at the moment can you really effectively start to plan how you are going to get where you’re going.  Often the leaders that we we’ve worked with actually don’t understand their starting points, which could be different for different people.


Why is this so important you might ask – surely if I know what the vision is and I’ve planned the route, I can just give people directions to help them get there.  Well, you could, but directions are very dependent on people all starting from the same place.


Ok so let’s go back to the map analogy for minute– imagine the end destination for a group of six people is the centre of Birmingham.  However, two of them are starting out from London, one is in Edinburgh, one is in Wolverhampton and two are in Swansea.  In order for all of them to successfully reach Birmingham they will need to take very different routes – one set of directions will not help them.


A leader needs to ensure their team, department or even organisation is all waiting at the same point, a bus stop if you like, ready to catch the same bus to the end destination (the vision), as this way they will all be following the same route (the strategy).


So just like my Mum and Dad did for my sister and I all those years ago, it is the leader’s role to communicate the “vision” in a way that engages people and makes them want to catch the bus in the first place, then they have to communicate the route (strategy), so everyone knows the way and finally they need to ensure everyone is waiting at the same bus stop and no-one misses the bus!


Remember for the leader there is no point in reaching their desired destination if half their people aren’t on the bus with them or worse still if they are the only one on the bus!



Until next time, thanks for reading



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