When my partner and I first launched our company College Hunks Hauling Junk, I was told that leadership was one of the most important attributes of a good business owner. With a lack of education offered on leadership specifically, I took to self-educating and became an independent scholar on the topic. I read countless books, and took notice of the shared attributes the most effective leaders in business, politics, and sports exhibited. I surmised that true leaders lead with vision.
The best and most effective leaders are able to paint a compelling and inspiring picture of what the future will look like. This imagery can inspire others to follow them to that promised land. Their visions are detailed, graphic and believed to be attainable by those who choose to follow. The late Steven Covey described it as "starting with the end in mind." Jim Collins characterizes it as developing a BHAG or Big Hairy Audacious Goal. However you describe it, the premise is simple: true leaders envision the future in their mind's eye and then effectively communicate that future to their prospective investors, employees, vendors and clients.
A fundamental component of being an inspirational leader is being able to effectively communicate an idea from inception to implementation. Entrepreneurs face a similar challenge in their endeavor of taking an idea and making it into a reality. Your vision needs to be communicated in such a way that those who you describe it to believe in it, and thus want to be a part of making it into a reality. This concept follows the notion of "The Secret," which states that if your mind can conceive [an idea], and you are able to get enough people to believe it, then it is possible to achieve it.
As a leader, it's important to always accept blame when things go wrong and deflect praise to those around you when things go right. This can prove difficult for many entrepreneurs, including myself, because we can be quite ego-driven at times. The truth is, though, that no one person can achieve something on their own. Most accomplishments take teamwork and a collective effort. If you watch the star quarterback after a big football game, he always gives credit to his teammates, especially his offensive line whose job is to protect him.
Team building exercises can help you show appreciation for your colleagues while further establishing yourself as a leader. These exercises encourage employees to contribute fresh ideas while providing an opportunity for them to participate in developing your vision. One exercise we use is drafting a "Snapshot Statement." The statement outlines what we expect our business to look, feel and act like three years down the line. We write it as if it has already occurred. We then share this snapshot with all of our team members and franchise owners, as well as prospective franchise owners. It is a very effective exercise that lets you reverse engineer the future you envision to the present day. We have each of our franchise owners complete this exercise during Hunk University - our new-franchisee training - and my business partner and I also complete a "snapshot" each year.
Notice that I haven't said anything about leadership in terms of wielding authority. Despite the depiction or successful leaders in movies, authoritative leadership will only get you so far. That sort of leadership is shortsighted and limited in effectiveness. There's a reason why dictatorships rarely survive and political regimes that represent the voice of the people tend to thrive. People have voices that they want heard; consequently, if you're a leader who refuses to listen, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Rome was built neither in one day, nor by one man. It's important to acknowledge that while you may be the one with the vision, it is with the help of those around you that you're able to make that vision a reality. The key to effectively leading with vision is to be able to communicate your vision as effectively as possible in an inspirational manner. Dreaming big is important, but teamwork and a cross-company desire to succeed are paramount to the success of a business.