Another crisis is rocking the English football establishment. Tales of greed and corruption continue to emerge in the wake of the sting by the Daily Telegraph on the former England national team manager, Sam Allardyce. Who knows where it will all end? It is disturbing, though perhaps unsurprising in a sport where money is king, and the loyalty, passion and support of fans take a back seat
What seems clear to me is the total lack of vision displayed by leaders at the heart of our nation’s favourite sport, whether that be the national team manager or his bosses in the Football Association. They all display one common thread – the inability to lead ethically through a sustained vision.
In this article, I discuss the five reasons why vision is vital for all leaders, at whatever level and in whichever environment. My thoughts build on an excellent book by Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner, co-authors of a book, entitled “Full Steam Ahead: Unleashing the Power of Vision in your Work and Your Life.”
I fundamentally agree with their perspectives, and I explore why below, drawing on a previous assignment in support of a voluntary sector organisation facing significant budget pressures. Quite the opposite scenario to our money grabbing celebrities, though more salient for that comparison.
Vision is the starting point of leadership
Leadership is about vision.
What vision has driven this money-grubbing agenda, in particular for a man so delighted after many years to lead his national team? What vision does the FA’s response inspire in the average football fan? I’ll leave you to draw your conclusions.
My client’s starting point was a need to manage a significant decline in their budget and remain a viable delivery organisation. An anticipation of this process was that, at some future point, the project might grow again. Shrinking to survive was necessary, but that was not the end point. The way forward emerged slowly at first, though gathered momentum as the change process accelerated. That way forward was nurtured into an active driving vision that underpinned their change process and included the evolution of a new, more compelling headline vision for the organisation.
Vision determines direction
Leadership is about going somewhere.
Where are the FA and Big Sam headed now? Deeper into oblivion might be the case, without a positive outcome in sight.
If you aren’t going somewhere, your leadership style doesn’t matter. With my client, once we had created a clearer and more precise vision, other things were able to flow from this – the change plan, a new strategic plan and a new annual operational plan, all with the vision clearly and firmly identified with them. Sharing these plans and associated processes across the workforce, my client reinforced the vision contained therein at every opportunity.
Vision is something to serve
Without vision, the only thing left to serve is yourself.
Self-serving leaders will eventually lead vision-less organisations. The FA and Sam Allardyce seem to me a strident case in point. Is radical change required, you bet!
My client’s strong vision gave staff something to focus on, to rally to, and to underpin their value and contribution to the organisation, at a time of real turbulence in their lives. Interestingly, it also maintained and often enhanced their commitment to the team, despite their individual monetary concerns.
It also clarified and re-rooted their purpose, and gave them a positive future focus. The creative response to potential future scenarios was impressive, to say the least, and their energy to do so at a full staff event I facilitated made me feel very humble. Once grasped, the vision portrayed to them by the CEO – a focus on some reorganisation and then sustainability and growth for the future, clearly focused on providing excellent quality services to young people – really captured their support.
Vision overcomes the power of criticism
Without vision, squeaky wheels control organisations.
The wheels have come off in grand style for the FA and Big Sam! Many would argue they have been squeaky for too long! The criticism pouring out now is immense. What lubricant for those wheels is needed now, beyond a massive dose of change?
I particularly liked this part in Blanchard and Stoner’s book. I had a strong visualisation what Ken and Jesse meant by ‘squeaky wheels’! I have worked with these types of people for many years of my adult life – the habitual moaners, critics, nay-sayers – for whom any change is a thing to be attacked, subverted or stopped. In my experience, they too often win the day, even if it is only by slowing change processes down to a slow drip effect, which ends up frustrating too many people and disaffecting the rest and then stops!
Through the process with my client, I saw a strong vision galvanise an organisation while providing ample opportunity for those who were less sure or committed having their say. What was abundantly clear was that a compelling vision, fully supported by those things that have emanated from it, have provided significant responses to those who were or potentially were ‘squeaky wheels’!
Vision creates unity
Without vision, you can’t get on the same team.
The team analogy is most apt in the Football Association’s circumstances. A remote elite has managed the FA for too long, the Premier League has become too wealthy and powerful, and Big Sam was openly rooting for himself. What price the views of the average fan?
I was very impressed how vision galvanised my client’s organisation. It also brought a powerfully unifying sense to the team. Sure there are still issues to resolve; some people have not achieved what they had hoped; and unfortunately, as happens when budgets drive an agenda, there are some casualties.
Despite this, staff in the organisation demonstrated a greater feeling of purpose and direction, and a very real sense of excitement at the prospects that the future held. While uncertainty existed, along with some trepidation, the leadership demonstrated, first by the CEO and then a critical mass of leaders and managers across the organisation, built on a strong vision that created a strong forward momentum. No mean feat in austere times like these!
What about your organisation?
I noted in Ken and Jesse’s book this comment, “Less than 10% of the organizations we visited are led by managers who have a clear sense of where they are trying to lead people.”
Is that what you experience in the everyday? I hope that, in relating my thoughts about vision to a real example, you might agree that vision is vital! Hopefully, this might inspire you to re-visit your vision for your organisation and see if you are one of the lucky 10%?
One last thing, if you are not one of the lucky 10%, and need help to check, refresh and re-energize your vision, you know how to reach me, just ask!
I can be contacted via www.linkedin.com/in/johnthurlbeck, and would be delighted to hear from you.