The Done Right Podcast
Episode 17

Strategic Leadership Principle 5––Craft & Share Compelling Strategic Vision

Welcome to the Done Right podcast. I'm Jordan Staples and over the past decade and a half, I've been studying how people live successful and satisfying lives, both in and outside of work. And here's what I've learned. People in the workforce who are successful and satisfied are the ones that show up, pitch in, and make an impact in their companies. They are the ones who know how to get stuff done but do it right. So our mission for this podcast is to deliver insight and inspiration to fuel the way you show up at work today. 

[Jordan] Trish Gorman, welcome back to the Done Right podcast. We're glad to have you here.

[Trish]  Thank you. It's great to be back. 

[Jordan] All right. We have been talking about a part of strategic leadership, which is about the goal of strategic leaders. And specifically today we're going to hit on crafting and sharing a compelling vision. Now, can you just dig in from your perspective of what this principle means and why you guys selected it? I guess this is one of the key tenants of strategic leadership. 

[Trish] Sure. Most people when they think about strategy, they do think about vision. Maybe you've learned mission, vision, strategy or some kind of a framework that way. And often when you think about leadership, you also think about the leader, you know, having a vision that helps motivate people to do something. So vision is not a new concept. And in some ways, I think we have to have something about vision in our framework. But the emphasis we want to put on is that the strategic leader is really integral in crafting a vision. And the communication piece is super important because a lot of times what actually happens when you think you're talking about vision, you're actually talking about an objective. So if I say my vision is to get a million hits on this podcast, that's not a vision. That's an outcome. That's a goal in itself. And we are talking about goals. But the vision piece, it has to have a big piece of the how and the path. You know, the vision is more we're going to move through a process, a pathway. We're going to do some things together. And the leader is the one who explains and defines and supports the ongoing conversation about how are we doing? Where are we going? And is this still where we want to go? 

[Jordan] Kind of why? 

[Trish] Absolutely.

Where leaders go wrong in sharing their vision:

[Jordan] So where do leaders go wrong when it comes to the vision? Because a lot of times you hear vision, and it's about motivating people, you know, and even your mission is like vision. I've heard that vision is the why. You know, mission is the what, and then you should let your people kind of help articulate the how. But I kind of tell me where leaders go wrong when it comes to really sharing a vision. 

[Trish] The two places that I see people go wrong the most... And by the way, that's a fantastic framework that you just laid out is, you know, the why, the how, and the what. And we want to layer on top of all that great stuff. So the two biggest problems that I see is that leaders assume that everyone else has a similar aspiration and level of sort of tolerance for uncertainty or appetite for hard work. So their assumptions about their people, about their teammates are often off, and that creates all kinds of problems down the road. 

And the second one is that their assumptions about other people's assumptions are off. So if you assume that robots are coming to take our jobs, and in five years 50 percent of all jobs will be done by some kind of automated technology. And I assume that, yes, that's going to happen. So we've never actually disagreed, but I think it's gonna happen in 25 years. It's getting to the level of actually understanding the belief structure of the people you're working with in important ways, in ways that impact technology, adoption, that impact customer satisfaction. Maybe I think it's a great day when we only get five customer complaints and you think it's a great day when we only get 50 customer complaints and we both say great day. Customer complaints are down or up, but we're not getting specific enough to be helpful to one another. And a lot of times people are almost a little embarrassed to say, wait. How many customer complaints are good or bad? How fast are we supposed to be doing this? What are our metrics? And because they're you know, we've all been burned by as soon as you put a metric around something. Oh, boy. Now there goes the creativity. There goes any freedom you might have had. So keeping vision wide open, but also really understanding the underpinnings. It's a balance. It's a tough thing to do. 

[Jordan] Yeah, this is great. So I guess the question I have is, ok, you're saying the challenge is that people don't get specific enough, they're not concrete enough. Let's say I go on to articulate the specifics, and I'm really giving very clear whys and I'm giving very clear outcomes and objectives and started to map, you know, our pathways to get there. But to your point, my team sees it differently. Right. Like the delta between me and my team in terms of the assumptions and the tactics and the approach of how we go about it is pretty different. So we use the term compelling vision. So when you're calibrating and understanding what people's assumptions and belief structures are. Let's say the delta's pretty wide. The difference between you and them is pretty wide, what do you do next?

[Trish] Then it's really about the communication and being able to translate that vision or craft a vision that makes sense to them. So maybe I met 50 customer complaints today and I'm told five is the number and I'm just totally demoralized. Then we've got to have a vision of how do we either create a different path for that person or we get from 50 to 5 in some way. And the compelling vision is going to say we care enough to want you to get to a place that we're all going to be happy or satisfied or value-creating. 

[Jordan] Yes. It sounds to me like the answer is really about clarity of why your vision and the path and everything is what it is. And then just really leaning in with them to communicate that. But then just listen to their reaction and just continue to clarify as they’re maybe understanding it differently or confused or whatever it might be, to drive that alignment. 

[Trish] I always say that strategic leadership is a contact sport. And by that I mean you can't sit in your office and send e-mails and figure someone's understanding you. We do research about sending the same message to multiple people and seeing how many different ways it's inserted, even the tone. And I won't just pick on email, but send slack and email and in technologically, mediated messaging is so much a part of our lives. For me to say, you know, that's cool on an email versus that's cool or whatever. I mean, there's no tone. We don't have any dimensionality to it. So figuring out ways that you can send a real message that actually has a lot of knowledge and information embedded in it and also receive those messages. So I could be saying words and you think you're agreeing with me. But then when we both debrief separately, you know, you heard something entirely different than what I thought I said. 

[Jordan] So let me ask this then. Is this really about clearly communicating your strategy? 

[Trish] It is at the highest level. It's clearly communicating your strategy, your path to value what really matters. So actually, I might not care if your customer complaints are five or 50, because I'm actually looking at customer complaints as a wonderful source of data because it's a really new product. And the more complaints, the better. But if we're getting fewer of them, maybe we're more on target, you know? So the whole idea of there is a plus-minus on complaints already has a huge embedded frame. Is more good, or is less good? And even that, that's where communicating your strategy, you're deciding which metrics matter. You're deciding who you really want to please. If I sort through your 50 complaints and I'm trying to sell to the elderly and all the complaints are coming from 28-year-olds, I'm not upset at all. So it's getting more to the strategy in terms of what is our core value proposition? What are we actually trying to deliver to which market to do what kind of a job and getting to the right kind of feedback, I won't even call the metrics, but the right kind of feedback that sells tells us if we're on the path or not. So the crafting that vision is being able to translate the strategy into something we can talk about. And that's something we can have an ongoing conversation every day that helps us decide what to do and what not to do. 

[Jordan] Yeah, and that crafting process is probably a whole lot of contact sport like you talked about. 

[Trish] It is. And it's a lot of going to the future. So the other thing that I think that this principle tries to get us to do is to think about vision. If you looked at how much communication you're doing in a day, you might be making modifications to your current plan or communicating about today's situation. But that's not strategy. Strategy is the decisions you're making today for tomorrow. So we also push people to be thinking about how are they building the bridge to the future? How are they communicating about, you know, I live in the future, please come there with me, because that's where our customers live and that's where the growth of our company lives. And that's when and where we're going to beat our competition. Today's battles were settled yesterday. So the idea that you're really always talking about future perspective and a path of value in a compelling way, in a way that's exciting, feasible, for some of your audience you want to challenge them to stretch as far as they can, for others you want to talk about the mastery that they have and how they're going to apply it. It really is nuanced in many ways. But if you're not spending a lot of your time trying to communicate what's in your own head, if you're a strategic leader who spends a lot of time reflecting and thinking and not in a constant feedback loop, you're just going to be disadvantaged because you're going to make more mistakes and have more misunderstandings. 

[Jordan] Yeah, that's kind of a theme as we've been doing these interviews, that constant feedback loop is a consistent theme. I mean, there's just no way to understand what compelling is. There's no way to get people bought in and behind a vision if you're not in the constant feedback loop and so on. 

[Trish] And it doesn't have to be verbal talking. It can be going through emails. But maybe you're going through them, you know, with sort of a word cloud attitude to see what kinds of things are popping up more or less. Or maybe you're actually using technology to be able to do, you know, a barometer of morale on a regular basis. And you're testing data that's coming back from your teams which helps you review. If you have this systemic idea, it's going to help you see patterns and it's going to help you make choices and it's going to reveal why people are doing what they're doing in some cases. But there has to be an underlying logic. And that's the thing. The logic can't just be work harder, do more, go faster. That's not strategy. 

What to do if your team is resisting your vision:

[Jordan] So what happens, let's say you're trying to do all these things and your team is still not acting based on your vision? Any feedback there?

[Trish] It depends on what they're doing. So if there is actual resistance, we have a lot of good understanding about the change process, it could be change fatigue, as you said, it could be burnout. So are they not acting because they just don't have an ounce more of energy to expend or, there's an interesting little frame I've heard talked about where are they just a tourist? And they're kind of like, oh, this is interesting. Jordan's doing this again. I've seen this. I've seen this movie before. I like this. This is fun. Let's watch it happen. But not feeling like they're invested or they're embedded. And there's also the victim mentality of, oh, gosh. Jordan's doing this to us again. He's going to drag us through this process. And so you don't want victims. You don't want tourists. You want real teammates. So when they're not acting, are they actively pushing you onto a different path? So the positive side of they're not cooperating is they want to be a part of the dialog and they actually think, you know, that there's a better way. So if I'm just resisting you or if I just can't take another step, that's a different problem to solve.

[Jordan] If it's a different direction or different way, that's almost a good problem to have. 

[Trish] Yeah. Let's take the thing I said earlier about the elderly. I'm trying to sell to the elderly and 28-year-olds don't like our product. Maybe my team actually says 28-year-olds are sampling our product a lot. Why don't we make a product for younger people, for that age group? And maybe, in that case, let's pretend I'm the strategic leader and I'm saying, oh, but the elderly, it's such a growing demographic and they're so underserved in so many ways. I'm for the elderly. And the team is saying, you know, the product has some opportunity here that we're really not seeing; now they're not following me, but they're also having a really interesting way of trying to reframe the problem or think about pursuing value. Now, can we say and both and do a little experiment with 28-year-olds and another experiment with the elderly, maybe? Maybe I let go for a while and say, ok, you know, let's take six months and redistribute our product to this other demographic. There may be a way to come together, sort it out, and also to be explicit and say, ok, we'll try this. But, you know, at the end of a period of time, if what you think about the product isn't working out, we still have to get our results. Even though work can be enjoyable, at the end of the day, you know, the product needs to sell to somebody or we really have to go back to the drawing board. 

[Jordan] Well, then really that goes back to how important your metrics are because at the end of the day, like, for example, I've got a team member in my organization and she's got a different way than I do of thinking about how we should do something. And the fact that she is so iterative and data-driven, it makes it so much easier to say go for it. Because it's almost like if we have the right metrics in place in terms of like how we're measuring our value and our milestones on that path of value, she'll get us there because she's got that skill of being able to action off of the actual data. And she's relentlessly pursuing that kind of feedback, and she's just very iterative in her approach. And that's the easiest thing to do, but the thing that we've needed to provide is the right set of metrics. Because then it will drive that initiative in the right direction. 

Working with a team:

[Trish] And share the data with the right people in the right way. So a lot of times I don't know something and someone will say to me, but I sent it to you. But maybe they sent it to me in a format I didn't understand in a spreadsheet I wasn't interpreting. To them, it's clear as a bell; they look and they see, you know, something that really needs attention. You know, a trend in student attendance or something, and I'm looking at the same spreadsheet and I'm not seeing that. So that iterative data-driven piece is really important. And whether that's qualitative or quantitative data, whether it's already been passed and cleaned and there is actually a hypothesis you're testing or whether it's really explored in a more unstructured way is super important. 

But then also people need to know where they fit on the swim team. So I often like to talk about roles and whether, you know, what's one lane you're in. And I like swim lines way better than silos. So there is a lot of flexibility of saying we're in the same pool, we could move the markers or buoys pretty easily. But you have to know, are you actually in a swim lane or are you swimming a relay? Like right now it's not your time to even be in the pool. You're waiting for someone else to do their thing, and now you jump in, and then you still have to know your role and when and how to participate. So oftentimes people don't know what their role is on the team in both those dimensions when their key moment is or when their output is really important for the overall process like a relay, or they're doing water aerobics and they should be swimming in their swim lane. And everybody's clarity on when to do what and what's in their scope––and again, these are all perennial questions about organizational structure, role definition and so on––but when we start to amp up the dynamism and put some uncertainty in there, you know, suddenly these are the kinds of things that can make or break your team. 

[Jordan] Yeah. And I guess what I'm hearing from you is really two things. So when you're crafting a compelling vision, it is the path––you talked about that you have to share this path of value––to that vision that you're talking about. But that path has so much to do with the roles and the processes that are going to allow for that team to operate and execute on that path forward. 

[Trish] Exactly. I mean, we talk so much about vision. And if you think about it as we're on a quest and my vision is to show you how we're going to get to some foreign land, some new market, then you need to know, are you a knight? Are you a cook? Are you the jester? You know, you're on this trip or are you the person waiting, and when a dragon approaches, you will kill the dragon. Meanwhile, you'll just stand by, because there's no dragon right now. But when the dragon comes, you got to be ready. So what's the equivalent in your mind of your quest, your dragon? For some people, the dragon is the board of directors, for others, it's a key competitor, for others, it's maybe even an internal process or something. So knowing we're all in the quest together, but everybody doesn't get to be out in front. We're all leaders, but we're leading in our domains. And that's where narrative and storytelling––and there are some really wonderful books and research and people out doing great work on how to engage. Especially now that we've made an almost complete shift into thought work, that narrative and how we perceive and configure what we do, it's the old story––I guess this is tangible as opposed to intangible. But you know, the bricklayer story. Have I told that on here? 

[Jordan] I don't know if you have. 

[Trish] So there's a bunch of guys building a wall with bricks, you know, bricklayers. And they're building and they're working at about the same pace at about the same skill level. And if you walk by, you see three guys doing their jobs. And it starts to rain, and one of the guys immediately stops his work and leaves because it's raining, and the other two keep working. And as he leaves, you know, I had a chance to talk to him and I said, “what are you doing? Why are you leaving?” He says, “well, you know, I'm building a wall and it's raining. I'm going home.” And the other two guys keep working and the rain starts falling down harder and starts to get kind of messy, and it's a tough situation, but let's just pretend it doesn't affect the quality of the work. So after a while, the second guy starts to pack up his gear and start to leave. So I asked him, “what are you doing?” And he says, “well, you know, I'm trying to make a living for my family. I'm a hardworking man, but at this point, I'm done for the day.” And the third guy works through the rain, he works through the lightning, he works through the thunder, and eventually, the sky clears and he's still working. So I get tired of it at this point; I'm not going to wait for him to leave and interview him, I just go up and say, “what are you doing?” And he says, “I'm building a cathedral.” So he's in a different space. They're doing the same thing. And you can watch this with coders who are trying to find a bug. You can find this with, you know, professors who are trying to build a course. If you're helping a student, you know, to get a job that's different than building a course, and that's certainly different than just working a job. And that's the narrative that can inspire. That's what strategic leaders can do, is to say, what's our quest? Where are we? What's our vision? What's our path to value? Who are we creating this value for that can get people to really engage and to offer you not just their time at work, but their true heart and soul. 

[Jordan] Now, I've heard the bricklayer story before, but it's been a long time. That's such a great metaphor for it for all of this. 

[Trish] We should come up with a new one that literally is someone who's sitting at their desk and they stay till 2:00 in the morning and they stay till the next morning and they're trying to find the bug in the program.

First things for leaders to do when adding strategic value:

[Jordan] A corporate version, that's great. All right, let’s kind of run through a couple of scenarios. So the first one is a lot of people will be hired as managers or leaders, and they'll walk into a new company and they are being handed a vision for the company. But they were also hired to come and lead the team toward good work, toward greater value. What are some of the first things that leaders should be doing when it comes to adding that strategic value and specifically with crafting that compelling vision for that new team of theirs? 

[Trish] That's a great question. I like that it's a very real example. You often get these high-level vision goals, objectives, and you don't get to redefine what the company is doing or even maybe what your department or your division is doing, but you have your own domain. So one piece of it is––what comes to mind is those Russian nesting dolls––kind of think about what is my domain, what's my contribution and how can I be more than cumulative? And by that, I mean you want to do your part for the greater good. So you understand a larger frame of what your company is doing, I going to assume, but you come in and you have a piece to contribute. Now, one way to think about that is cumulative. You know, I do my piece. I come up with, you know, 20,000 new customers or 10 million in revenue or two new products, whatever my piece is. And if everyone comes up with their piece, we can cumulatively add those up. You know, my two products, plus your two products, plus somebody else's three products. Now we have a product portfolio. 

But what I'd encourage you to do is to step back and not just move straight to action, but to step back and think about that path to value and how you can be more integrative. How can you work with others in a productive way so that it's not just adding my products to your products or someone else's products; it's being able to leverage that portfolio idea because you're in a company that we teach differently to entrepreneurs. When you're on your own, it's different. But when you're in a system, you've got to think in a systemic way. And it's harder, but it's a little more stepping back and saying, ok, who's in this with me? Where am I redundant to others? Where am I unique and what can I contribute? And I know that sounds very high level. We could get to some more concrete examples, but a big piece of it is not just, so what you don't do is don't just put your head down and start producing, step back and figure out where you fit in the larger picture and then ask a lot of questions, be open to feedback, try little experiments, make mistakes, learn on the job. And I'm assuming this is a new situation. Over time, you'll start to consolidate your learning and you'll start to see better ways for you to contribute.

Often, the confusing thing, and I had a job like this once where I was brought into an existing structure and I was told to do things in new ways. And so of course, first I think I've got total freedom, but actually, I didn't have any freedom really, it was a very constrained environment, but within my domain, there were some things that I sorted out that I could actually make some progress in. But again, words matter. And if I tell you, you know, do your own thing, you be you, then how can I fault you later when you go off the reservation and you be you? But if we have an understanding and we have a common understanding and we've shared assumptions about what we're trying to accomplish, it's you be you in the pursuit of the goals and objectives we've set on our path to value for our target customers to confront some of the uncertainty in the future. But we're not going to say that every time. We're going to say you be you, right?

Can a strategic leader take someone else’s vision?

[Jordan] The second question I was going to ask you, or scenario was gonna be, can a strategic leader take someone else's vision? And, you know, make it compelling or is it really you have to be their own? And I just wanna get your reaction to it, because every leader has a domain, to use that phrase. Right? And it's like there's almost like a sense of ownership that you have to take in your domain. And that's really what your value is as a leader. And so I guess that maybe the question is this: when you have a boss that is more on the micromanagement, in the trenches with you side of things, how do you really craft your own vision? 

[Trish] I mean, you're not always doing this. Strategic leadership is a role that you play at times when you see an opportunity to create future value by overcoming uncertainty. So there are plenty of times in any given day, week, or month in your job when you're still being the leader. But someone else has set the vision. You're motivating people and inspiring them to carry out the plan that's already in front of you. And that's perfectly fine. It's a wonderful way to create value. So that's actually a really good thing that we probably take for granted when we're having some of these stations. That strategic leadership is one part of your leadership. You always want to be able to unlock your strategic leadership and use it when you need to go into these more uncertain directions and to be thinking more about the future, to make kind of big tradeoffs and big decisions that are strategic. But there's plenty of times when you're given a clear set of steps or a plan and you're executing on that plan, and you still need leadership. You still need to be self-aware and listening and authentic. And, you know, lots of other things that good leaders have demonstrated. We know well what it takes to be a good leader. But we're trying to differentiate and say there is a time when you need to be setting out into bold new directions and finding opportunities to see around the next corner and be making tough decisions or maybe even stopping something you're doing now in favor of getting ready for something you need to do tomorrow. 

[Jordan] That's really great clarity because it goes back to some of our earlier interviews where it is clarifying that, you know, especially the University of Utah, you guys have this strategic leadership institute. You know, you have these six principles that really drive what it means to be a strategic leader. But strategic leadership is just a part of being a leader. It's not everything. 

[Trish] Exactly. And sometimes you're a follower and sometimes you're a team player. So there's a lot of different roles we all play. We really saw that strategic leadership was tending to be something that was added on as a layer when you're 45 years old and you finally get a senior V.P. slot and now people call you a strategic leader and ask you to think about the future of the company. And we think that much younger. We're doing strategic leadership with 18-year-olds who come into the school trying to think about their own personal path to value and can apply all these kinds of principles, just as we're talking about today, to crafting and communicating a compelling vision about why they do what they do, why they don't do what they don't do, why they make the choices they do and why they work with the others they do. This is you know, this is really important. But there are also times when you're not meaning to think about it in that frame, and you're working with others on a really clear team project or you're being given some clear plan you need to execute. And there are different skills for that. 

Today’s best next actions:

[Jordan] That's great. All right. So the takeaway here, what is the next step for leaders that are recognizing, you know what do I need to do to step up and bring a compelling vision to my team? What are their best next actions? 

[Trish] One of the simplest ones. Although it's a bit intimidating, is first try to write down what you think you're doing, or if you're less of a writer and more of a speaker, literally turn on your phone and record yourself saying this: why am I coming to work, am I building a cathedral, am I making a living for my family, or am I building a wall? And will I work through the rain? Will I work through some rain, or am I a fair-weather player? And then go out and find out what other people think as well. And that can be as simple as saying, you know, what do you really think would success look like for our team six months from now? And if they say success is more the cathedral kind of a story, versus the “boy, if we could just survive for six months, I'd be happy if I still have a job in six months.” You're gonna hear very different versions of this. 

So I would say find out why other people are coming to work. Find out why other people think that they're working so hard or they're trying so hard and ask them the kind of questions you've been asking me, which is who are we working for? What are we really doing? What really matters? If I can only do one thing tomorrow, what would the most important thing I could do be? Then don't take that as just an answer. That's just part of a conversation. And hopefully, those are the kinds of staff meetings and team meetings you're having. What are the most important things we're doing? Where are we being too cumulative and just adding together your two products and my two products, when we could be sharing our work earlier and more often and maybe coming up with a whole new product line and getting 10 times the benefit of what any of us could do in our own little silo. So yeah, I'd say ask different questions, share more of your work earlier with more people and just be more courageous. I mean, a lot of what I say, I didn't do when I was a young person in my jobs; I wanted to just get my paycheck and stay out of trouble half the time, you know, and so be a little more courageous and try to, you know, elevate the conversation and get more towards a compelling vision and less towards, you know, just survival. 

[Jordan] That's great. Now, Trish, I am so grateful for your time and all the insight that you've shared with us today. Thanks for joining us. 

[Trish] My pleasure. Thank you for having me. 

Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. You can find more information about the topic and continue the conversation at The Done Right podcast is hosted by me, Jordan Staples, the show is produced by Workfront. Our team includes Jeremy Tippetts and Marc Hansen. 

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