How To Gain Real Commitment To Your Vision
Listen to Episode 155:
Episode 155 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated – enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of success. On the web at businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of business advancement incorporated. And sitting right across from me as always is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. As always, it’s great to join you for another episode of growth igniters radio. And as always, our purpose is to spark insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to take themselves and their companies to their next level of innovation, growth and game-changing success.
Now, Pam, one of the most frustrating things for any visionary leader is to be able to clearly see your vision and yet get crickets or blank stares from other stakeholders.
Pam Harper: When you share it with them, you don’t just see the vision, you feel it, you smell it, it tastes it. You can practically touch it. For example, think about Richard Branson and the way he’s taken virgin into space. That’s been a long journey.
Scott Harper: That it has, and that’s a very successful visionary, but not all visionaries have the same level of ability to get their vision across.
Pam Harper: Yes. Some CEOs tell us, I’ve shared the vision with investors and with the board and with employees, and one of two things happens in the case of boards and investors, they push back that it’s unrealistic or won’t work for a variety of reasons or in the case of employees, we’ve worked on a number of situations where employees will agree that the vision is great and then nothing really happens that’s different. What we learned from those experiences is that there’s always a reason why something happens and why it doesn’t, and there are always things you can do about it. But when these issues aren’t addressed, that’s when you start running into problems and you lose that commitment. And that’s when people say, “is it possible that you can be too visionary?”
Scott Harper: Well, that’s right. It’s not always easy being a visionary, but in a disruptive world, there’s more call than ever for people who lead companies to be visionaries. And that’s true for any size company in any industry, public or private.
Pam Harper: Yes. When Peter Gleason of the National Association of corporate directors was our guests, we discussed recommendations of their Blue Ribbon Commission for leadership success in a disruptive world. He told us that NACD is recommending a change in criteria for selecting and evaluating CEOs and senior executives. And that is to go from selecting successful operators to selecting change agents. And of course, the best change agents are visionaries.
Scott Harper: So how can a visionary, forward-thinking leader get more commitment for their vision?
Pam Harper: The key to doing this lies in your ability to navigate the paradoxes that inevitably occur in response to bringing any vision to life.
Scott Harper: Absolutely. And in fact, we were just talking about one of our experiences where we address this very issue.
Pam Harper: Here’s the story: I was meeting with a visionary CEO of a highly successful mid-market company of about 100 million in revenues. He was telling me all about his vision and all the things that were going to need to take place in order for it to happen. He had it down; it was quite interesting. But when we got to why I was meeting with him, he said, “Here’s the thing. We’re having our best year ever, and the morale here is odd. It’s low. I don’t understand it.”
Scott Harper: That’s getting in the way of making the vision come to life.
Pam Harper: That’s right. He said, “If, in fact, I cannot figure this out quickly, what’s going to happen is we’re not going to be able to achieve the goals that we need to have accomplished. And that threatens the entire vision.”
Scott Harper: Wow.
Pam Harper: There was a lot that was riding on accomplishing this goal − Revenues, reputation… It was a big project.
Scott Harper: He had a really big idea of where he wanted to go, and they weren’t getting there as well as they needed to. So what happened?
Pam Harper: I looked at what had already been done. They’d done a survey, and there were some pieces of information that came in, but it was incomplete, and when I went throughout the company and I started talking with some of the key players, I started seeing a pattern. There was a theme that emerged, and it fell within what we call “the visionary’s paradox”: in a nutshell, the bolder the vision, the greater its promise, and the more resistance you’ll get from stakeholders who either don’t understand the vision or don’t agree with it.
Scott Harper: It’s very important for us to take a moment and reflect on this concept of paradox. Why was looking at that situation in the context of paradox so important?
Pam Harper: Well, it reminded me of the two competing truths that are always present; it’s a balancing act, really. In order to move forward, especially into the unknown, there has to be a balance.
Scott Harper: This isn’t like complicated problems in math or physics or science or engineering like I used to face before I joined you. Those have definable solutions, no matter how complicated the problem. Here, we’re dealing with complexity. There’s no real answer that is once and done. The paradoxes are always there, especially when you’re out there growing and exploring the unknown. These are rooted in the competition between equally valid truths in a constantly changing environment.
Pam Harper: That’s right. In fact, in this story, the executives in the company had already addressed the morale problem, if you want to call it that. Seen as a navigating issue though, it wouldn’t be unexpected. You would expect that the bold vision would have triggered some level of that resistance. You can see it makes it a little bit easier and faster to understand what could be going on − anticipate the potential issues, and then…
Scott Harper: Yeah, anticipating is really a key point here.
Pam Harper: That’s right, and doing more to encourage the outcomes that you want to see.
Scott Harper: Given that, how do we start to navigate through these paradoxes?
Pam Harper: You need to understand the dynamics that are inherent in these paradoxes that surround us. Again, in this particular story, understanding the dynamics − the human dynamics that were playing out all around − helped this CEO to make the decisions that led to some very successful outcomes.
Now, this isn’t an isolated case. Many successful visionaries that we’ve either worked with, spoken with, or studied are successful at business innovation and strategic growth precisely because they’ve been able to navigate the paradoxes, in fact, often without explicitly realizing that they’re doing it.
Scott Harper: That’s a trick…
Pam Harper: The advantage of demystifying − which is what we’re doing in this episode − is that it’s easier to sustain success by being mindful of these dynamics, especially when you’re in unknown territory.
Scott Harper: That really is worth going into deeper. We’re going to first take a quick break, and when we come back, we’ll talk more about the human dynamics behind the visionary’s paradox and how to navigate it. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We focus on enabling visionary leaders to guide, ignite, sustain and boost momentum for game changing results on the web at businessadvance.com.
Pam Harper: We’d like to welcome our listeners and especially our many new listeners. If you’re not already subscribed to our Growth Igniters community, you can get even more value by signing up. You’ll receive reminders of our new biweekly podcast along with a link to a page filled with all kinds of resources. On off weeks you’ll receive a Growth Igniters post, which is about a two minute read.
Scott Harper: Go to growthignitersradio.com and click the red sign up now button at the top right of the page.
In the first segment, Scott and I discussed the surprising truth about visionary leaders, which is that there are many more successful visionary leaders out there than many people think. Now, this is whether or not they call themselves visionaries, and a large part of their success comes from their ability to navigate through a host of paradoxes. Demystifying how to do this depends on understanding the human dynamics that are embedded within any paradox, and this is especially true when you get to those that have to do with business innovation and growth.
Today, we’re pulling back the curtain on what we call the visionary’s paradox. In short, the story was that a visionary CEO was mystified as to why the organization that he was leading was having a persistent morale problem, and that was what he called it despite many attempts to address it. It would be somewhat corrected, and then it returned.
Scott Harper: It was very recalcitrant to a complete solution…
Pam Harper: Yes. It turned out to be due in large part to what we ended up calling the visionary’s paradox. Scott, you’ve been doing some research that can shed some light on why this paradox exists.
Scott Harper: Sure. As you know, I’ve been doing a lot of studying and digging into the neuroscience behind cognitive biases. These are the mental filters that can lead virtually anyone, no matter how smart they are, to reach conclusions that are not necessarily aligned with actual facts.
Now, in the case of the visionary’s paradox, it appears that one of the two biggest factors that contribute to it is a cognitive bias is that we call “the curse of vision.” Now, this is the fact that the person who has the vision − the visionary leader − especially, when it’s bold and taking us into undiscovered territory, they can easily underestimate the extent of which other people that are essential to making that vision come to life don’t share the understanding of it. They don’t necessarily live in the same place.
Pam Harper: The dots are not being connected here…
Scott Harper: Right. there’s a disconnect.
Pam Harper: How does the visionary leader come up with this bold vision?
Scott Harper: The disconnect is driven by the fact that the visionary has what we call cumulative thinking.
Pam Harper: Cumulative thinking?…
Scott Harper: Cumulative thinking. This is the combination of all the experiences and the knowledge, belief, and training that are integrated together. This gives them a unique perspective that makes it very easy for them to understand the vision.
Pam Harper: Let me get this straight. It’s largely intuitive − for instance, I may go to a seminar or take university classes. I am surrounded by all these things that I…
Scott Harper: You’ve got lots and lots of experience, and it all adds together. But you’re not necessarily verbalizing it, even to yourself.
Pam Harper: You know what’s interesting? In this case, the CEO actually had gone to an executive education forum, and he was talking about some of the things that he found very inspirational and exciting that he wanted to base his vision on, so what you’re saying makes a lot of sense.
Scott Harper: The thing you just said − it’s important. He went to this conference. He brought back this feeling that they should integrate these things into the company. Other people were in the dark. They didn’t share that experience, so they couldn’t necessarily connect the dots, and so even though the vision was very compelling and valid to the CEO, and was actually valuable to the company and would move it forward, other people didn’t get it. And if you don’t get something, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to support it.
Pam Harper: That’s right. You really have to focus on connecting the dots − the logic that takes people from where you are and takes them to where they are and connects those pieces, at least logically.
This is exactly what was happening in the story that I was talking about in the first segment where there was this CEO with an amazing vision, and he was getting a lot of pushback from people who weren’t obviously saying “no,” but they were expressing it in the form of low morale.
What we discovered is that people truly did not understand what was happening in the company. They actually thought that all of the comings and goings of people, a lot of decisions that were being made were signaling that the company might actually be going under, that they would be losing business.
Scott Harper: A complete disconnect of perspectives.
Pam Harper: Because they didn’t know what the vision was; they just didn’t know how everything that was going on added up to taking the company from where they were to where they were going to be. The good news in this story is when the CEO helped people in the organization to understand where everything was going and connect those dots, many people said, “Oh, I get it,” and they were able to take appropriate action.
Scott Harper: Addressing the curse of vision for this company definitely helped.
Pam Harper: Yes. But it wasn’t enough.
Scott Harper: There was more to the visionary’s dilemma that the CEO was facing…
Pam Harper: Remember that I said that many people said, “Oh, I get it,” and they started taking appropriate action? In fact, there were some people who weren’t able to get on board with the vision.
Scott Harper: Even though they understood where the vision was coming from and where it was going to?
Pam Harper: That’s right, because everybody has differences in values and beliefs and needs, and all of it has to line up. It’s one thing for me as the visionary leader to say, “This is my purpose, and here is my vision,” but not everybody’s going to just naturally be on board, even when they understand.
In this case, it led to the growth of what we call “elephants in the room.” These are the situations where people don’t want to talk about what’s going on. Everybody had a sense that there was something wrong, and no one wanted to talk about it. That was another reason behind the mysterious morale problem.
Scott Harper: That makes sense. How is that addressed?
Pam Harper: In this case, we decided that the best way to handle something like this was to surface the issue. People have to face it head-on. It was done through a series of discussions in groups and with individuals, and we put it right out in front and said, “People are here for all kinds of reasons. This is where we’re going, and this is why we’re going here, and you each have to make your own decisions about whether or not you want to be here. But if you’re going to be here, be here and participate and get engaged.”
When people understood that it was their decision to make and that they weren’t being coerced, then most everyone decided that they were on board and they were going to be committed. It was a turning point for the company. They were able to keep on doing what they needed to do to live into the vision and the purpose of the company. They grew by several multiples and significantly increased the company’s value.
Scott Harper: Understanding what was happening in the company in the light of the visionary’s paradox allowed the CEO to bring his people together by helping them connect the dots and build commitment to the new vision, yes?
Pam Harper: Yes. The reason for looking at this in the frame of a paradox is that it provides context for what was going on. Remember that these paradoxes show up in every company very differently, so it’s not like there’s a label that’s going on. You have to look for it.
Scott Harper: No blinking sign. “This is a paradox.”
Pam Harper: No, no. The story is unique to this company at this particular point in time, and that’s always the way it is with a paradox. But when you have that framework firmly in mind, you can begin to say, “What’s happening?”
Scott Harper: Ah, okay, right, and you can also anticipate. If you think about the paradox as always this balance of two opposing truths, anytime you’re doing something new and different, especially if it’s bold, you can anticipate. You can say, “We’re going to do this,” or, “We want to do this.” How can we better ensure that we have the balance that’s necessary to achieve that vision?
Pam Harper: We have to be aware of the human dynamics, and that’s the value of looking at all of these things that we’ve been talking about in the framework of a paradox. That’s what we’re going to talk about in the next segment, but first, we’re going to take a quick break. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We’re on the web at businessadvance.com. Now, Pam, some of our listeners may know that we speak at a variety of company events, conferences and off sites. Can you tell us why clients engage us as speakers?
Pam Harper: Well, one of the most challenging aspects of leading a successful company in this disruptive world is answering the tough question of how do we stay ahead of the curve when the journey keeps changing?
Scott Harper: That’s right.
Pam Harper: Well, as Growth Igniters ourselves, we know how to address this issue and spark the new thinking, new conversations and new decisions that generate the momentum it takes to stay first, fast and foremost.
Scott Harper: To schedule a brief call with us to discuss how we can help you and your company get even more game-changing results, contact us today at businessadvance.com.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the past two segments, Scott and I have been talking about the surprising truth about visionary leaders, which is that there are many more successful visionary leaders than many people would think.
Scott Harper: That’s right.
Pam Harper: We’ve also been talking about how the most successful visionary leaders are the ones who can navigate paradoxes, including something that we focused on this time called “the visionary’s paradox.”
Scott Harper: Right. So Pam, let’s take this third segment and get into some practical, actionable advice that people can use so they can more effectively navigate this visionary’s paradox and live into their vision and purpose to create a lasting legacy.
Pam Harper: The first piece of actionable advice is to make sure you’re taking into account all of the critical stakeholders that would impact or be impacted by your vision. Obviously, employees in an organization are critical, and many of us do that. Less common is to think about our reliance on vendors, strategic partners, and how the human dynamics that are involved impact whether or not we can actually get done the things that we care about getting done, and-
Scott Harper: Focusing on people who are not just on the payroll.
Pam Harper: That’s right. Think about the study that we conducted on strategic alliances a few years ago − what we saw was that, of course, everybody’s thinking about partners, but when it came to issues having to do with mutuality and trust, there were a lot of issues, and people were very candid with us. These were CEOs of companies of all sizes. We have a report that our listeners can download.
Scott Harper: We’ll put that in our resources section.
Pam Harper: We talk about mutuality on the one hand, but the actuality of it is sometimes very different. So actively reaching out to a variety of stakeholders, including those who are not on the payroll, is a critical piece of being able to successfully navigate the visionary’s paradox.
Scott Harper: Absolutely. What’s the second piece of advice?
Pam Harper: The second piece of actionable advice is to consider how you’re asking your questions, and really think about what you’re hearing in these conversations with various stakeholders. That’s not as easy as it sounds, because one of the things that happens is that we have a tendency to perhaps not always think that we want to hear what people say. In fact, that’s sometimes a very difficult thing to hear, especially if people are being critical.
Scott Harper: Another thing is that even if we want to hear from stakeholders that they don’t understand or that they don’t buy into the vision, it’s really important to create a safe environment for those conversations so that people will be forthcoming. Because if they’re not, you’re driving in the dark.
Pam Harper: The report that we’re offering on taking control of the elephants in the room addresses some of these issues.
Scott Harper: Now, here’s a third piece of advice: Once you’re having these conversations and identifying the right people to have them with, sit with all of your stakeholders at various times to identify outcomes that would signal what should be happening to bring this vision to life really is happening.
Pam Harper: Scott, you have a favorite saying.
Scott Harper: I do, I do, and it is, “if you woke up tomorrow to a perfect world, how would you know it?”
Pam Harper: How would you know it?
Scott Harper: Well, you’d be identifying the things in advance that say, “Yes – to get to this vision, this would be happening, and this would be happening.” So often, we don’t really call out the critical success factors or the critical issues or things that need to occur to get to the things we’re actually wanting. If you don’t have things to measure against, signposts to say, “Yeah, you’re going in the right direction,” you could be drifting off course and to even know it.
Pam Harper: Well, many companies actually do have monitoring and metrics and that kind of thing, and I think the people who are listening probably do have that. What is especially important is to do the digging to find out when something is not happening the way it should is to take into account all of the possible reasons why that might be happening.
Scott Harper: Right, and that’s why considering dynamics and things that are going on in the company in the frame of the paradox is particularly useful for coming to those conclusions.
Pam Harper: And that takes us back to our story…
Scott Harper: Right. Pam, it’s been a great conversation. We’re coming up on the end of our episode. Do you have any final thoughts?
Pam Harper: As a matter of fact, I do. No matter what you call yourself, if you’re a leader who consistently challenges the status quo and seeks to redefine what’s possible for a better world, you are a visionary.
Scott Harper: All right.
Pam Harper: It’s a good thing, too. Framing issues that you face in terms of paradoxes helps to pull back the curtain on how you arrive at your visions and more consistently navigate the human dynamics that are necessary for success as you live into your vision and purpose.
Scott Harper: Great. Thanks, Pam, and thanks to you out there for listening Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversations, download the reports we mentioned, share on social media, read our bios, or open a conversation with us, go to growthignitersradio.com and select episode 155.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: … wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to discuss with your team:
Scott Harper: What do we need to do to increase our ability to successfully be aware of and navigate the visionary’s paradox?