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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #45: Setting Priorities – Are You a Visionary or a Vision Caster?

July 11, 2019
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #45: Setting Priorities – Are You a Visionary or a Vision Caster?

To effectively set priorities, leaders need to effectively and consistently communicate their vision, or the “why” of their organization. In Episode #45 of our Executive Leadership Podcast, we examine how a leader can grow from being a visionary to a vision caster for their organization.

To learn more about setting priorities as a leader, consider bringing a 5 Levels of Leadership Workshop to your organization this year.

Read the transcript below:

Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader and your ability to influence others and to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach. And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with the John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining us. Today’s topic is titled, “Are You a Visionary or a Vision Caster?”

Perry, I love this topic and it really continues down this little run that we’re on with priorities alignment. And sometimes I question your titles. Today, I actually like this title, so I’m looking forward to it. There’s still a bit of a play on words, but we think about how everybody thinks they’re visionary, but are they actually a vision caster? And then it came about, actually, through a two-week span where I just really started noticing people on my team who I thought should know how I thought what I said was clear, even if it wasn’t. And we actually decided as a team what we’re doing, where we’re going, but there was some doubt about that before.

Then, on a coaching call, some of my coaching clients said, you know, I cast a vision at the annual meeting in January. And I recall John always being so clear about, when do you cast vision– continuously? And so I was thinking, everybody says, yeah, I said it. They got it. Newsflash, they don’t got it. And if you think they got it, then they don’t get it and you have to keep saying it. So, I really liked this reminder for me personally, to stop just thinking you’re a visionary and start being a vision caster. You know, you’re talking about John. He teaches that there’s a vast difference between a person with a vision and a visionary person. So, I’m going to read you just a couple of bullet points here.

I’m going to talk about the difference that he lays out for us as we set the foundation for today’s content. The first group here, he says these are people with a vision who talk a little but do a lot. A visionary person does little but talks a lot. The second little set right there is, he says, a person with a vision finds strength from inner convictions, whereas a visionary person find strength from outward conditions. And then the final one that he touches on right here is, he says, a person with vision continues. When problems arise, a visionary person quits when the road becomes difficult. And I know we can all think about different leaders. We probably have worked in the past with someone in each one of those different categories.

So, what I thought we could do today is answer three key questions about vision to see if it helps the leaders that are listening today to align their teams on the key priorities necessary to achieve the vision that they have for their business. I’d like to pitch the three to you. Can I surprise you and get your input on each of them? Are you ready? I’m ready.

Question number one: the CEO of our business has the vision, not me. Am I supposed to have a vision for my department or division, or should the CEO vision be enough? So obviously we know this answer’s just absolutely, yes, you need to make sure that you have and continue to communicate the vision to your department, right? We talk about alignment as a leader, and in the past, we’ve talked about, hey, we’re not going to always agree, but we need to have alignment. And no truer is that statement then right here we need to make sure that we have complete alignment from the CEO down to the team member that may have just joined and been with your organization for a week or two.

This really got me to thinking about, and this is where I challenged some of the leaders that we work with, that you need to really treat your department, your circle of influence, as if you’re the CEO of that organization, of that little department. And so, how are you taking the vision that is for the organization and how has it been pushed through your department so that it fits in? Your CEO needs to be aware of it, but your vision may be a little bit different. You may talk about it just a little bit differently so that it fits into the bigger vision. Here’s what I was thinking about.  You know how you said just a minute ago, that this is really for me or what I’m learning, what our listeners don’t know is every time we do a podcast, this is what Perry and I are struggling with, right?

I always use sport examples. Well, today I’m going to talk a little bit about what happens at halftime at sporting events. Thinking about high school, my son just graduated from high school, you have the marching band that comes out. Well, when you have the marching band come out, and they all get in their places, right? All of a sudden, you’ve got the whistles that are blown. Everybody comes to attention and all of their eyes go directly to the drum major and that drum major is holding those batons. I’m just impressed that I even know what this means. And if my wife is listening, she’ll be very impressed. So, they have to be able to see the baton to follow, right? They have to know what to do, where to go, when to move on what beat.

And so, as you think about this as a marching band, right? Your vision, and what we’re talking about today, mission and values, they are that baton. Our team has to be able to see the baton in order for them to march in the same direction. You’re going to have some team members in your department that will not be able to see that drum major. And that’s your responsibility, because you can see, or you see it from somebody else, to pass that on because they have to be able to see that baton. How about that? I’m thinking of how many directions we could go with this and so you’re right, I have nowhere to go except for the key is right leaders. We are the keeper of that baton and it’s going to be different for every organization, but whatever it is for your organization, you need to make sure that your department is in alignment with that.

And then we teach them the song and practice during the week, but they need to see the baton on Friday night. Yeah, we teach all the time. Even though we went through it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and it really is an employee engagement issue, questions come up. I don’t know where I fit in, where we fit in. Why are we relevant in our department again? What good are we? You know, you get a big, mighty vision, but where do I fit? I’m going to engage more if I know why we matter.

Question two that I’ve heard says, I mentioned this earlier a little bit, I usually describe our goals for the year in the January kickoff meeting. Isn’t that good enough for casting the vision? Obviously, you know, the answer to that is no. And people are naturally going to do things for our own reasons, not others’. And so we need to make sure that we continue to take every opportunity that we can find to remind the team, right? Why what we are doing matters and why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s funny when you talk about this and sometimes, I share examples from here at the John Maxwell Company and you talk about, do I just need to repeat this vision in the annual meeting? Well, last year, we were making a lot of changes, a lot of things were going on, and every single leadership team meeting, every other week, our CEO, Mark Cole, began the first five to seven minutes recasting the vision for the company, and we’re sitting around the table, all of us executives, and we should know it, right?

We should be able to lead that part of the meeting. But it didn’t faze him. He said, you need to hear it from me, at a minimum, out of my mouth, twice a month. Because what we found was that the leaders around the table were not able to articulate it in years past to their teams, or just weren’t doing it. And he’s like, well, we’re going to turn this up a notch or two and we’re going to continue to repeat it. You’re going to continue to hear me. Then you find yourself in your own team meetings, you find yourself in your one-on-ones and all of a sudden you are repeating that language. We talk a lot about the 5 Levels of Leadership and the common language. It’s the same thing here.

We talk about, how do you define leader leadership in your organization? What does it look like? It’s the same thing when it comes to the vision. What is that language? I think, for leaders, the further you are away from the people that are doing the work, the more you need to repeat it. Absolutely right, because it’s going to get watered down throughout.

Now, the only thing I added to this when I was thinking about it, to just give you guys some thoughts, those of you that are listening today, is just make sure your vision is compelling. You’ve heard that, right? That’s pretty common, but I saw this statement in an article that I was reading, and it just really grabbed me. The credibility of the messenger influences the message. Now that struck me because your CEO may have incredible credibility, and so he’s casting this vision and as it works its way down your organization, if you have leaders that struggle in this area or don’t have credibility, the message is going to get naturally diluted, and you need to be aware of that. You need to look for that. You need to spot it, and then I’ll just challenge each of us to make sure you’re not a messenger that lacks credibility because you do not live out the vision of the organization.

But to your point, you have to repeat it and use multiple forms to do it right. Sometimes it’s in email, sometimes it’s, we’re talking about this a little later, in posters. Sometimes it’s in meetings. It doesn’t matter. You have to repeat it and use different forms to do that.

That’s a great point. And one thing I just saw this week, Donald Miller, a friend of John’s, has a great new videocast that comes out every day. The one yesterday was about vision, and I thought one thing that I took from that was that he said you got to keep telling people, that’s where we’re going, that’s where we’re going to do it. But he said, you also need to make sure, to your point, that the other people on the team, if you’re not there at the meeting and somebody else’s leading the meeting, that they can say, that’s where we’re going. And that you need to make sure that everybody’s on the same page as us. Here’s an interesting thought. What if, as a leader, if you have your leadership team, what if you looked around the table and said, how much credibility do my leaders have with people in this organization?

And the answer to that question comes as a direct correlation to the vision that you have for the organization getting cast out to the people. I worked with one CEO who actually went out, and he was on his in-field visits to people. He was just generally talking to people. He’d asked different levels in the organization, how do you feel about where we’re going? He said his goal was to find out where it was broken, you know, where, after him, to our level. And then from our level to the next level, where’s it broken? I want everybody in the organization. I thought that was a great thing.

Number three, we have a mission statement on the wall. Isn’t that good enough to remind the team what we stand for? To your point, with CEOs traveling around, I guarantee the majority percentage of organizations can’t repeat their mission statement. Mission statements define what an organization is currently doing while the importance of a vision statement and repeating that is basically the ultimate goal of what they’d like to accomplish. Where are we going, where are we going? And continuing to repeat that.

The mission is what people do in order to achieve the vision that is being set. It’s the how. We’ve talked about this, the how and the why language, right? The mission is the how versus the vision being the why. And I think one of the key reasons so many people in organizations are not working on the most important priorities is that they’re really not sure what the most important priorities are.

Today, if our listeners wanted to move from being merely a visionary to becoming more of a world-class vision caster, how would you encourage them? Well, let me say something to those that maybe don’t set the vision. Maybe they’re not the CEO or a leader in a position where they are casting the vision. Let me say that to those that aren’t, and you don’t know what that vision is in your next one-on-one with your leader, I want you to ask that question, and then you just made a good point.

What is it that you’re doing on a daily basis? Your big rocks, your priorities? What is it that you’re doing and does it align with that vision? Have that conversation with your leader. If someone came into my office that was on my team and had that conversation with me, I’d be like, whoa. Not only would I be convinced that as a leader that I’m not carrying the message, but I’d be like, man, he or she gets it, they’re on board.

I need to get them fired up, because they’re going to be there. They’re going to have that credibility and caring that missed that message. And just make sure, leaders, that we do not contradict the message with our actions. That’s just a different way of me saying what we just talked about, the message and the messenger. Do not contradict the vision that you are casting on behalf of the organization with your actions. Because you will lose credibility in a hurry.

And then finally, I’m so proud of myself with this example that I just got to close with this. Chris Goede talked about a marching band, halftime at a sporting event. Do your people see the baton? And if they don’t see the baton in the CEO’s hands, the drum major, then they have to see it in your hands. And so just make sure that you understand that they are going to be focused on that baton.

As a reminder, if you’d like to learn more about the 5 Levels of Leadership, perhaps bring a 5 Levels workshop to your organization, you can leave us a comment or a question at We always enjoy hearing from you. We’re very grateful that you follow along. That’s it for today. Thank you for joining the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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