At a recent retreat, Board Members found signs on the walls … signs extolling the virtues of their organization; signs with motivational slogans; signs with parables.  One sign stood out from all the rest.  It simply said,

A Good Leader Creates A Shared Vision

One of the dictionary’s definitions of vision is the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be and it is this meaning that the sign was referencing.  A good leader creates a vision of what a business or the world will look like in the future if specific actions are taken today.  A good leader is able to describe this future in a way that enables others to see it as well.  This is what a good leader does.

A great leader, on the other hand, takes it a step or two farther.  Great leaders create a vision and lead their followers into it; first in the mind and then in reality.

Great leaders communicate their vision in terms that empower their followers to believe that it can become a reality.  They describe their vision in terms that enable their followers to see it; to smell it; to taste it; to feel it.  They use words that appeal to the senses of the listener.  Most importantly, great leaders communicate that vision so clearly that their followers can see themselves in that vision and know how great it will be when they turn the dream into a reality.  To illustrate, consider two individuals who qualified for the same incentive trip awarded to top sales people by the company that they worked for.  Both were asked by a colleague to describe a part of the trip and why they had both been willing to work so hard to win the trip.  Ironically, they both talked about the same part of the trip when they answered the question.

David’s answer:  “It was really great.  We went to this winery where they make champagne.  They gave each of us a glass of champagne.  We drank it out on the patio.”

Louie’s answer:  “We took the most awesome trip to a wine cellar where they make champagne.  After touring the winery and seeing how champagne is made, they gave each of us glasses of champagne and invited us to go out on their patio for champagne with sour dough bread and cheese.  It was amazing!  Here we are, sitting on this terra cotta patio with this huge fountain in the middle of it under a sky that was so blue and so bright that it hurt your eyes to look up at it.  When you looked across the patio, there were these little white cotton ball puffs of cloud floating over the hills.  When I closed my eyes, I could hear the breeze rustling the leaves in these huge eucalyptus trees and the water drops tinkling in the fountain.  When I took a bite of the bread, it had this really sharp bite to it from the sour dough.  Then, I put a piece of cheese in my mouth and it was so smooth it just melted in my mouth.  Finally, I took a sip of the champagne and felt the bubbles dancing across my tongue.  In that moment, I thought, ‘this is living … this is why I worked so hard … so I could savor this moment!”

As the people standing nearby listened to Louie’s description of that afternoon, they could see the sky; taste the bite of the sour dough and the melting cheese; feel the champagne bubbles dancing in their mouths.  Most importantly, they could see themselves qualifying for the next incentive trip and enjoying a similar moment.

Like Louie, great leaders communicate their vision so that others see it and see themselves being a part of it.  Great leaders inspire their followers to pursue the vision and build it as a reality.

As you share your vision with your followers, choose your words with care and make certain that you draw your listeners into the vision and help them not only see it, but help them feel the pride of success that comes from turning that dream into reality and being a part of the team that made it so.

Do You See a Threat or an Opportunity to Build a Legacy?

Imagine you’ve recently hired a new employee who is smart, has talent, is driven to succeed and wants to grow professionally.  In fact, when asked where this person sees himself or herself in five years, the answer is “doing your job”.  How do you react?  Is this an opportunity or a threat?  Truly great leaders see opportunity!

One of the greatest leaders I ever had the privilege of following had a phrase … “first rate people hire first rate people … second rate people hire third rate people.”  He knew that great leaders look for the very best people, seeing them not as a threat to their own security, but rather as an opportunity to build a legacy.  To build this legacy, he followed these steps …

•    Look for talent – each person has a variety of talents, tools that they can use to attain a desired outcome.  This great leader looked at the tools that the person had.  These needed to be tools the person actually had, not the ones that the leader wished the person had.

•    Assess drive and determination – talent without the drive and determination to put those talents to work is useless.  Desire makes all the difference in the world when the going gets tough.  This great leader looked for individuals who had reasons for pursuing a goal; reasons that drove them to put forth the effort needed to overcome whatever obstacle might stand in their way.

•    Determine willingness to work – when a person has enough reasons for wanting to attain the goal, they will have the willingness to work.  This great leader recognized that the reasons must be important to the follower, not important to the leader.  For this reason, he asked about the person’s motivators and then listened to the answers and listened for the passion that would help the person summon the willingness to work for the goal.  When the going got tough, because he had truly listened, this leader was able to help the follower remember the reasons why reaching the goal was important enough to keep working for.

•    Identify strengths – just as everyone brings talents to the table, they have things that they are really good at.  These strengths form the foundation upon which all endeavors should be built.  This great leader knew that people will happily do what they do well.  So, he never attempted to force the “square peg into the round hole”.  He encouraged his followers to do what they were good at … early and often!

•    Find areas for growth – while every individual has strengths, things that they are good at, each person also has areas in which they can grow and improve.  This great leader was able and willing to help people recognize skills that needed cultivation and did so in ways that never made the individual feel inadequate.  Rather, he helped them recognize how good they were and how much better they could be by taking the time to cultivate a skill and master it.

•    Build on strengths and provide tools for growth – this was the final phase.  Having identified both the strengths and the opportunities for professional growth, he made certain that the person had the necessary tools; training, education, mentoring, or any other tool needed to facilitate that person’s growth and success.

As you look back, can you identify the people you helped along the way?  As you look forward, can you foresee the number of people who will attribute their success to the help they received from you?  While only you know the answer to the first question, you hold in your hands the opportunity to answer the second by the actions you take today and in the days, months, and years to come.  If you wish to be known today and remembered in the future as a truly great leader, you must measure your personal success against a very special standard; the people that you help to grow and achieve their goals.


I met with “Susan” this week and asked if we could review the record she was keeping of what she spent her money on; her expense log.  She pulled a notebook out of her purse with some apprehension and quietly told me that it was “pretty embarrassing.”

Susan went on to tell me that she had been afraid to keep this record; that she feared it would make her look like a bad person because of what it revealed about her decision making.

She continued, “This morning, I reviewed my notes and they confirmed my worst fears.  I made a lot of really bad decisions.”

This is a very common reaction when people first begin keeping records of their spending and taking responsibility for how they manage their money.  They feel like the record they keep is full of bad news.  It was fun to tell her that the record is actually full of GOOD NEWS.

“Susan, your expense log may feel like bad news, but it’s really full of good news; and, here it is.

•    “First, you took a really big step in choosing to keep this record.  It took real courage and commitment.  It’s very important that you give yourself credit for taking this big step.

•    “Second, each of us has a personal board of directors in our minds.  Think of your board as those little voices that are always whispering “good choice”, “smart move”, or “ooo, you could have done better”.  This board is always looking at what we’ve done in the past and what we can do in the future with the goal of helping us do our best.  When you reviewed your expense log this morning, your personal board of directors expressed its disappointment in some of your spending choices.  As the CEO (Chief Excellence Officer) of yourself, you agreed with your board of directors and said, “yes, I could have done better”.  The GREAT NEWS is that you took a responsible step and decided that you wanted to make changes in your future spending decisions.

•    Third, the even GREATER NEWS is that your get to make your own plan for making those changes!”

By now, Susan was smiling as she realized that her fear of confronting what she thought was a real weakness had turned out to be a winning move as she took a big step toward financial independence.

Want the secret weapon that Susan used in this real life story?  Here’s what you can do …

1.    Identify three areas where you do not like the choices you have made about how you’ve spent your money.

2.    Set a goal of what you want future decisions to look like.

3.    Write down how you want to reach that goal.

4.    Promise yourself that you will make the changes that will enable you to reach this goal; and, continue to write down your expenses so that you can measure your progress.  (Bonus … if you just sighed and thought that this is too much work, take a second and write down just 1 thing you spent money on today.  Just one.  How long did that take?  Don’t let your emotions fool you into overestimating how much time this will actually take.)

5.    Set a date when you will review this record and decide if you have reached your goal.

Susan left our meeting with renewed confidence that she could control her money rather than have her money control her.

Ironically, the effectiveness of this process is not confined to personal finances.  It can be applied to all aspects of life.  Our internal board of directors is always conducting an on-going performance review … looking at our goals (or lack of goals), the plans we’ve created for reaching those goals, the progress we’ve made toward the attainment of the goals, and rendering a judgment every day; exceeds expectations, satisfactory, or unsatisfactory.  When we receive the board’s daily verdict, we choose how to respond.

•    We accept the accolades for a job well done and vow to keep up the good work;

•   We take credit for the accomplishments and responsibility for the shortcomings and make a plan for improving performance where it is needed; or,

Well, the third choice is giving up; but, that is not an acceptable choice.  The board of directors is not an external body that we can choose to ignore.  Rather, it is a living, breathing, part of who we are and it will always be whispering in our ear.  It cannot be disregarded.

Has your board of directors conducted today’s review? If it has, you know what you want to work on.  If not, there is still time to make today’s review a favorable one.