13 Aug Leadership is all about Vision
One of the critical qualities that separates good business executives from excellent ones is the ability to have vision. The American Heritage Dictionary defines vision as unusual competence in discernment or perception, or intelligent foresight. Many people claim to be visionaries, and history has proven most people don’t have that ability. During the Internet dot-com fiasco, many people were touted as visionaries. They talked an interesting game, but when the real challenges appeared, they folded like a house of cards.
A good leader with vision understands that taking risks go hand in hand with vision. Having vision and not having the courage to follow through on your vision is certainly not good leadership. The old cliché “no risk, no reward” and “no guts, no glory” are all part of the complexities of taking your vision and following through with it.
Vision must be extended to all facets of business. It includes your ability to have vision about your industry, your company, and how you can leverage that vision to build a successful business. Warren Buffett is certainly a man with vision. Bill Gates is another example, and John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco Systems is starting to demonstrate that he, too, has vision, in addition to already being an excellent business executive. Meg Whitman, the CEO of eBay has demonstrated her ability to have vision through both good and bad times!
Warren Buffett is often quoted on his views of the qualities of good leadership. He talks about the trust and mutual respect he has for the twenty plus CEOs of the companies that make up the Berkshire Hathaway Group that report to him. Warren Buffett tries to provide the overall vision of where he thinks industries might be going, and then acquires good companies that have strong business executives to help shape and execute the vision.
Mr. Buffett’s management style involves letting the CEOs of his companies participate in visionary discussions about where things might be headed. Not any one person has all the answers obviously, and as successful as he has been, he realizes inputs from trusted colleagues are invaluable, and encouraged. The same principal applies to all sizes of companies, and all good leaders surround themselves with very knowledgeable people to participate in shaping the vision.
The telecommunications industry has been going through very painful changes for the last three or so years, and many companies who thought they had figured out the future of where things were headed, proved to be dead wrong. Tens of billions of dollars were invested in infrastructure, but the customers never materialized. Some companies where just too early, and others arrived too late. Timing, as history points out, in most successful ventures plays a very critical part!
A visionary named Ivan Seidenberg, who, at age 56, has been with the company since he was 19 years old, heads Verizon. He stated as a cable splicer’s assistant, and rose through the ranks to become CEO. He has cut his teeth on this company and understands it inside and out, after spending 38 years at Verizon. But it’s his vision of the future that will determine if he can position the company to survive the next 25 years.
Mr. Seidenberg is spending tens of billions of dollars on fiber optic high-speed connections right to homes and small business, in all the markets where they compete. It will take 10 to 15 years to finish the installation, but he believes it’s worth the risk to take the leap of faith. He is betting the farm on his vision of the importance of high-speed connections to millions of homes and hundreds of thousands of small businesses. He is convinced that being the first with fiber optic connections will separate him from the pack of his telecommunication competitors.
In summary, vision is understanding your value proposition thoroughly, and having the courage to take calculated risks with the inputs from trusted colleagues to help shape the vision. Once that happens, then the real challenge of executing on the vision must take place. And in the case of Verizon, that will be at least ten years from now.
William Dollar is a Senior Contributing Editor for the Wisconsin Technology Network, and has his own consulting company at www.billdollar.com. You can also contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.