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Leaders’ vision for companies must be realistic, even when they are aiming for the stars
 

 

The problem with the concept of a “leadership vision” is that the actual language used to describe it can sound overly grandiose, and even vaguely mystical.

 

Talk about “visions” might stir up an image of a nightmarish business leader who fervently drives a workforce to incredible lengths to attain his perfect version of success. Or it might conjure a chief executive hunching over a crystal ball or some tea leaves in a futile effort to discern a vision of the future. Both are fairly unsettling to contemplate.

 

Clearly a leader needs a strong vision for what he or she wants to achieve in a particular organisation. They also need to create a strategy for reaching this long-term goal, with clear marker points for measuring success along the way in both the short and medium term. Thinking strategically, after all, is among the most critical skills leaders should possess. They need to be able to anticipate conditions beyond the current state of their organisation, and they must be capable of interpreting complex streams of information to make balanced decisions about the best way forward.

 

The challenge for leaders is that their employees, customers and shareholders must also understand this vision and believe in the strategy being used to get there. This is tough, firstly because any person’s interpretation of somebody else’s vision will be tinged by their own experiences, beliefs, prejudices and misunderstandings. Think, for example, of the long-serving employee who has seen it all before, or the rising sales stars who believe they know the market better. Convincing these stakeholders of a particular course of action – perhaps in spite of their own views and immediate evidence to the contrary – is far from simple.

 

It is also tough, because there is an evident imbalance between the amounts of information a chief executive is aware of, and that of employees further down the company. Even where an organisation is very good at sharing information and is as open and honest as possible, it is impossible to reveal every confidential takeover approach, shareholder dispute or executive suggestion. Leaders therefore possess a longer view of the market and a better informed idea of their organisation’s place within it.

 

Part of this conundrum, as a result, falls back to the evident need for a leader to build and hold the trust of their followers. But it is also about a leader presenting a strategy that is actually convincing, with a vision worth attaining. Achieve this, and followers’ trust in a leader will adequately cover the gap between what they currently know and what they understand is being aimed for. They will readily accept that advances in strategy will produce long-term gains.

 

This has been seen here in the UAE recently. For example, the petrol price rise of a few weeks ago had long been talked about, and was widely accepted as a sensible policy move when it actually happened. Some people at the pumps perhaps expressed immediate surprise that they would be paying more to fill up, but most also recognised the long-term benefits of reducing the budgetary burden of subsidies on the state, as well as the environmental benefits from the likely reduction in car usage it will encourage.

 

You can also see the idea of leadership vision in action in the example of the UAE Space Agency, which has been rapidly ramping up its efforts since coming into being last year.

 

Here is an endeavour that has an obvious “visionary” aspect to it – literally aiming for the stars – and is an excellent example of a situation where most people’s present understanding is somewhat distant from this vision. Most likely, the number of people who naturally link the UAE with the final frontier are probably limited right now, but there is impressive foresight in investing heavily in an industry that is likely to see massive growth in the coming years.

 

Setting the goal of reaching Mars is certainly a target that captures the imagination, and the ambition and farsightedness shown in making it will comfortably carry people along for the ride.

 

Ahmad Badr is the chief executive of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group.

 

Reference : www.thenational.ae