Should great leaders communicate their vision or listen effectively? This question poses an interesting dilemma for many leaders. In some ways, it’s like the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
It’s critical for a great leader to have both traits. They must be able to communicate a compelling vision for the company’s future and also listen effectively to their stakeholders, gathering key input as they move their organizations forwards.
Steve Jobs and Howard Schultz have been truly visionary business leaders who also listened carefully to input. Additionally, President Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi all had extraordinary visions, communicated effectively and, in times of crisis, appealed to their constituents, compelling them to change behaviors. These leaders all inspired their followers, helping them feel better about their future and motivating them to take action.
It’s not enough to be just visionary, since the vision crafted and the follow-up actions may not be connected to followers’ needs and aspirations. For instance, David Siegel, CEO of Westgate Resorts, started the company in the 1970s out of his garage, and his vision was to build a successful real estate company specializing in timeshares. He grew the company and gained personal wealth once estimated at $1 billion, yet lost his way with key stakeholders and lost touch with his followers.
Over the years, he has been profiled as someone who relished his success, flaunted his wealth and, as a result, alienated his staff, peers and potential customers. He built himself a 90,000-square-foot home, which is the subject of the documentary “Queen of Versailles,” while the company was struggling during the recent recession. He lost a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment and was fined for violating federal telemarketing sales rules. Most recently, he sent an e-mail to his thousands of employees letting them know that the current administration was targeting the rich and, therefore, if Obama won the re-election in November, Siegel would terminate a significant percentage of staff because of increased business taxes. Not surprisingly, he failed to motivate, inspire or engage his staff, which is negatively impacting his business.
Great leaders listen carefully to their stakeholders and use their input to form their visions for the company’s future. When Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks in 2008 to restore the brand and profitability, he asked for suggestions via e-mail (and got 5,000 responses) and called managers in retail locations nationwide to see how they were doing and what they needed.
With this information, he crafted his vision about Starbucks, which described how the company helps build communities. This vision elevated employees to a place where they were providing a positive societal difference vs. other competitors who were in business to make profits. Their baristas believed they were doing more than making coffee — they were building stronger communities. In addition, he took his vision and strategy for transformation to key managers to explain the current state, create a burning platform for change and gather their input about the company’s future.
He invited 11,000 managers to New Orleans in 2008 for this internal leadership meeting, engaging them in the future of the company and generating excitement and support around his vision. He also worked alongside his management team to help rebuild neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Katrina, demonstrating his commitment to the vision of building stronger communities. His efforts paid off — and are continuing to pay off — for his stakeholders.
Siegel and Schultz’s approaches to leadership are instructive for all leaders to apply in their businesses. Creating a compelling vision can be taught, as can developing effective listening skills. The key is to integrate these skills, as they are both necessary to effectively move the business forward. Additionally, these attributes support other leadership skills, including business and financial acumen, operational excellence, results orientation and social changes, to maximize success for any organization.
David Brookmire is a seasoned executive adviser, researcher, author and recognized authority in leadership effectiveness. He has successfully coached executives at companies including The Cheesecake Factory, Darden Restaurants, Bekaert, Mckesson, Flowers Foods, ADP and Frito-Lay. Additionally, he offers strategic direction and proven solutions in building organizational capabilities, merger and acquisition success, and improved leader and team performance. To learn more, visit CPStrat.com.