Trust And Credibility Beats Vision And Strategy

Vision. Strategy. Roadmap. These are the words you hear often in corporate environment. They are supposed to help everyone, employees, customers, and other various stakeholders to understand why we are here. They are important, since without a clear direction and purpose nothing really great can be build.

In Strategy Is Overrated, Execution Is What Leads To Success I argued that even though strategy and vision are important what really matters is execution. Today I will look at these from another perspective. Have you ever wondered why even within out company with the same vision and strategy some teams vastly over-perform other team? Why some leaders are able to rally the team to execute on the strategy while others fail to do so?

Having a great vision

When you search the internet you will see many mission statements, bold visions of companies, growth strategies and worthy causes. But who really decides whether a certain vision, strategy or cause is worth following? It is you. And how do you make your decisions? Well, you may not like it but you decide based on the information you have about the cause and emotions it and people around it trigger in you. Just imagine this mission statement: “The company was founded to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”

It is an incredibly bold statement and if I told you that I’m CEO of that company would you join me in this endeavor and help me to achieve that vision? Chances are that you would not. Why should you? I have no credibility with you, I haven’t showed you that I’m able to achieve that goal, I didn’t build enough trust with you and so you will not join me.

What if I told you that the name of the company in question is SpaceX and the leader to follow is Elon Musk? And to quote from SpaceX official website it is the only private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, which it first accomplished in December 2010. The company made history again in May 2012 when its Dragon spacecraft attached to the International Space Station, exchanged cargo payloads, and returned safely to Earth — a technically challenging feat previously accomplished only by governments. And what if I told you that Elon Musk is also CEO of Tesla Motors building some cool cars? You would probably say, yep, I would follow that guy, because he has already shown he can do it. He has built enough credibility with you even though you never met him.

Trust and credibility must come first

John C. Maxwell coined the term The Law of the Buy-in, claiming that people buy into the leader and only then buy into the vision and strategy. And as we saw in the example above it makes a complete sense. But how do you build that trust and credibility when you don’t have massive rockets and electric cars to show off? You get back to basics and focus on your core values and the way you interact with the world around you. Just answer these questions and be brutally honest with yourself (or maybe ask some people who know you well to do it for you). And for every question the answer is not just yes or no, but try hard to come up with several examples to illustrate.

  • Do you know what your core values are? – This is a rather critical piece in the whole puzzle. How can you expect others to follow you and trust you if even you don’t know what you stand for? So the step number one is to identify what are your core values. What is really important to you? Who are you? How do you want to act? How do you want to be perceived? What you stand for? If you have no idea you can browse through The Ultimate Question Of Life, The Universe And Everything to get some tips on how to find out.
  • Do people around you know what you stand for? – I talked about this in Life is not fair! So what. The key is to be transparent and consistent. If you repeatedly show certain behavior people will associate it with you and will understand what you stand for and what is important to you. The worst thing you can do as a manager is to be erratic and unpredictable. No one can trust to or follow such a leader since it is just unclear where to follow and why.
  • Are you willing to fight for what you believe is right? – What is the point of having clear values and principles when you ignore them on the first sign of trouble? If you truly believe in something then you show it by being willing to put your skin in the game. From my own experience it is surprisingly easy to stick with your principles if people around you actually know what they are. I’m generally very open minded individual trying to find common ground in whatever situation but the moment someone stomps on my principles I get very black and white in my responses. In the rare situations when this happened my team or even superiors proactively disclosed their actions to me before I found out in other ways as they knew what my reaction will be. Related to this is also a willingness to fight for your team as I wrote in The Real Leadership Shows When You Are Not The Boss.
  • Are you willing to admit when you are wrong? – It may be a bit counterintuitive. Why would anyone follow a leader who is wrong? Well, no one will follow you if you are wrong all the time, but chances are that is not the case. Unwillingness, to admit mistake even though everyone around you see that mistake was made is the easiest way to lose credibility with the team. At the other hand to be bold enough to get in front of the team and be very open about the mistake you made, what you learned from it, and how you fix it can boost the trust the team will have in you. At the end of the day we are all just humans and we make mistakes. Read through Real Leaders Own Their Mistakes and The Case Of Loyalty for more on the topic.
  • Are your words and actions aligned? – This one is obvious. You need to walk your talk, lead by example, and (fill in your favorite leadership cliché). It is great to be a great orator but ultimately the real trust and credibility is only build by being the first one to charge and show not by talking but by doing.
  • Do you trust others? – Trust starts with you. If you don’t trust your team you can hardly expect the team to trust you. For some people being trusting comes naturally, some are more cautious, some just don’t trust anyone at all. The fact is, if you are a manager and a leader trusting others is part of your job and you need to learn that if you want to be successful. You can read more on the topic in The Ugly Truth Behind Having Secrets.

These are some of the basic questions that can guide you on your journey to find how credible and trustworthy you really are. They can also give you a feel on what areas you need to work on. The good news is that pretty much anything can be improved. The bad news is that when we talk about trustworthiness and core values we talk about something very personal, deeply ingrained and often impossible to change without lots of conscious effort and external help.

So what is the takeaway? If you are in any management or leadership positions don’t expect that all you have to do is to put on paper a vision statement and couple of pages of strategy and that people will buy into it and will follow. The very first thing you need to do is to build the trust of the team. Only when they believe you as a human being and when you show by your actions that you can be trusted, only then your vision and strategy will be credible for the organization and you will be able to rally the team around you to execute the vision.

 

What is your take on issue of trust and credibility? Do you believe that a rock solid vision and strategy communicated by a leader with trust issues will still work and bring the team together to execute on it?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Strategy Is Overrated, Execution Is What Leads To Success

“What we are missing is a solid strategy.” “Let’s bring on board a consultant to provide a viable business strategy.” “I would come up with much better strategy than the current product management.” “You need to think more strategically.” Do these statements sound familiar? There is a lot of focus in the corporate world on “strategy”. Companies, managements, even employees often blame lack of success at a faulty strategy. In truth, it is very rarely the case. Most often than not, it is not about poor strategy, but about poor execution of the strategy and lack of feedback to understand the impact of ever changing environment. Strategy is not a product. You need some people on the team who are able to set direction, who understand the market, who recognize the business opportunity but ultimately as Thomas Edison said “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Strategy is just a beginning and should change as needed

What is a strategy? You can define it as a series of choices you make that would lead to your ultimate goal. In business terms it would be choices on which industry and market to compete and what aspects of business prioritize to win (whatever it means for you) and maximize short/long-term value (again depending on your preferences).

Strategy is here to give you focus and have a common set of criteria that the whole organization aligns around. It is a framework for making day to day decisions by the teams that execute the strategy. But that is where it ends. The moment the organization understands where to go, what are the values and how we prioritize to reach the ultimate goal the real fun starts and it is execution time.

Execution is where all the magic happens

There is a Japanese proverb “Vision without action is a daydream. Action with without vision is a nightmare.” So yes, you do need the vision but the most successful teams and organization in modern knowledge based economy are those who can adapt and who out-execute everyone else. Once you have a basic strategy you need to operationalize it. Set up a basic operations model and execute, change, execute, change again, and so forth.

If you want to be successful you should be flexible while maintaining focus on your strategy. The worst thing you can do is trying to solve operational problems by constantly shifting your strategy. The result will be ever increasing loss of focus and people jumping from one activity to another without being able to prioritize properly. Not just that, but if you are constantly changing the strategy then you are confusing your organization and no one is able to make decisions because there is this missing high-level framework that supports the day to day decision making process. Ultimately, this leads to a situation where you need to make all the decisions yourself because the organization reporting to you is totally confused. And if you need to make all the decisions yourself you are a bottleneck and the organization is stuck. Not only that, you might be so removed from the day to day problems that even you cannot understand the real issues and your decisions may not be based on a reality of what is needed.

Feedback loop is what leads to success

What is next? Things are not working out, so the obvious decision is to “change the strategy”. Guess what, that is not what is needed. Instead you need to commit to a given strategy and focus on improving the execution of that strategy. How to do that? Step by step. By constantly watching what is working and what is not working and making necessary adjustments in the operation.

The key is to have an ability to make small decisions at every level of the organization, make small seemingly unimportant experiments and feed the results back to higher levels and in consolidate form to the strategy team. This way you can have people at each level who can ask themselves “Is there anything I can do to improve the operation? Is there anything I can do to fix this problem?” If the answer is yes, they can make the necessary adjustment in the way they operate, fix the problem and adapt to changes in environment. If the answer is no, then the team needs to communicate it to the higher level. At this level the same questions needs to be asked. Maybe there is an operational way how to fix the problem on more global scale and if not push it again higher up. Ultimately when the problem gets to the top level the answer to these two questions is either yes, there is something we can do company-wide to improve the operations or no, there is nothing we can do within the current strategical framework. Let’s change a strategy.

All this can be done pretty quickly. It just assumes couple of things. Everyone in the organization understands the strategy and what criteria are used when making decisions. Everyone in the organization feels empowered to experiment a bit and try small improvements to execute better. And everyone in the organization understands where to communicate if change needs to happen and is not afraid to do so.

 

Does your team still live in the old strategy versus execution paradigm? Do you have a way to change the direction as required by the market fast enough? Do you believe strategy is what really matters? Share your thoughts.

Originally posted at LinkedIn.