Great leaders don’t shy away from bold visions and targets

How much can your organisation grow: incrementally? Significantly? Massively? And how quickly: never? Eventually? Now?

If yours is like others I have been working with recently, some among your colleagues will feel that only modest growth is reasonable and practical, while others — maybe just the odd outlier — are convinced that transformative expansion is feasible.

What makes the minority radicals reach their much more optimistic conclusions? Is it the confidence and boldness of their personalities?

No doubt, but from what I have been seeing it is also because they have experienced at least one other situation where they were the lone voice proclaiming the potential for dramatic expansion and not only managed to persuade their colleagues it was worth having a go at it but then actually witnessed success in achieving so much more than everyone else had imagined was possible.

It is such a mindset that in his book Good to Great led Jim Collins to advocate the defining of “BHAGs” (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), as the outstanding performers he wrote about did. And this spirit of bravado was echoed in Sean Covey’s WIGs (Wildly Impossible Goals) in The 4 Disciplines of Execution that he wrote with his FranklinCovey colleagues.

I am also reminded of Joel Barker’s The New Business of Paradigms, in which he stated that it is easy to become paralysed in “the terminal disease of certainty” as one becomes trapped in an existing paradigm.

As I quoted in an earlier article on Barker’s healthy provocations, he challenged leaders to ask: “What is impossible to do today in your business that if it could be done would fundamentally change it for the better?” Including, of course, doing what would have it grow at multiples of the present rate.

So whether we’re talking about setting radically more ambitious growth targets or about doing a much better job of achieving them, it is definitely worth asking what it would take to multiply one’s annual growth rate, to explore what can be done to transform the achievement rate of even short term goals.

I like having participants in strategy sessions wear Edward de Bono’s different coloured “thinking hats”, reflecting different attitudes to life.

Enough team members should wear his yellow ones, where the sunny and positive colour leads the wearers to be optimistic and hopeful.

More should wear the complementary green hat, given that green is the colour of vegetation and abundant fertile growth, thus indicating creativity, freedom and new ideas.

And OK, we’ll allow some others, the pessimists and the sceptics, to don the black hat, reflecting a gloomier disposition. They will keep the others sober, explaining what is not possible, and why the ideas proposed cannot work.

My role in the situations I have participated in, mainly as a facilitating consultant but also as an independent director, has been to embolden the more timid black-hatted participants and also to help the yellow- and green-hatted to do the same, so that consensus is built around a common vision.

READ: Big picture thinking needed from the private sector for national transformation

In the process the optimists may have to somewhat soften their stand, while the pessimists must stretch and increase their appetite for risk.

So what can you do to rise to a different level: to become very much better at serving your customers, with both existing and new products?

To acquire or merge with another company? To enter into joint ventures or other forms of partnerships? Should you restructure, bring in new people, develop a new culture? Must you tighten and shorten your processes?

From time to time it is good to go away and dream big dreams, bigger than you ever thought possible.

But I warn you, the initiators of such dreams are typically outsiders and newcomers, not those who are familiar with how things have always been done. They may well not be from the same sector or industry.

They may be a director, or the CEO, or some middle-level Young Turk. At first such folk may be scoffed at, merely humoured.

But if they persist and if there is substance to their transformative thesis their view can gather irresistible momentum. The challenge is for the new bold vision to become comprehensively and universally owned. And that requires great leadership. Try it!

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