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There is no doubt that establishing direction is a fundamental task of leadership. A compelling vision is the cornerstone of every decision and the direct link between actions and strategic goals. But the truth is, that establishing direction is the responsibility of everyone, whether you’re a CEO or intern. Or, at least it should be.
Being able to know where you are going and share that vision with others is a critical aspect of being able to get there. So, while setting the overall direction of an organization generally falls to the executive leadership, it’s the role of every member to set their personal vision and determine how that falls in with the collective.
Here are some thoughts on what it means to establish direction, and how to go about doing it.
1. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. If you want your established direction to have some relevance to the work you’re doing right now, it helps to have as clear an understanding as possible about what’s happening in the rest of your organization, in your industry, and in the world in general.
If you are a young accountant, it’s not only important to focus on sharpening your accounting skills. You should also work to fully understand the organization you’re apart of and what it is focused on achieving. Then ask yourself: Why are you in this organization? What is your primary value in the organization right now? What does success mean within the overall culture of the organization, and does that definition align with yours?
2. Write it down, even if it feels silly. If you’re the type of person who thinks that things like vision boards and personal goal lists are a bit cheesy, I’m going to suggest that you get over it. At least somewhat.
Time and time again, research shows that writing down goals and sharing your progress with others significantly supports the likelihood of success. So, don’t just define your personal direction in your head. Write it down.
Then look at it and ask yourself: Do I want this? Does this excite and inspire me? Do I believe I can achieve this? If the answers to those questions are “no”, you have some rethinking to do. If your answer is “YES!”, now comes the scary part… sharing it with at least one person in your organization that is above you or acting in a mentoring role.
Doing so not only makes where you want to go more real, it’s an opportunity to discover how strongly you stand behind the words. If your established direction and goals read like something you feel you ought to say rather than something you authentically want to say, sharing it with someone whose opinion matters will probably bring that out.
3. Live with Life is a process of growth and change, and what we think we want when we’re younger is bound to change more than once as we age. It’s important that we view our personal vision as a roadmap that’s subject to change without warning. It’s possible that the entire landscape of your map will be affected by industry and economic changes, or unforeseen events in your personal life that put up mountains where there once was open road.
Living out your vision rather than constantly trying to cram your life into it, means you’ll be more likely to take adjustments in stride, and profit from change rather than be hampered by it.
4. Pull others in. None of us live and work in a bubble. We all need the involvement and cooperation of others to support our own achievement. So, be clear with your coworkers about what you want and where you want to go. Encourage them to do the same with you. Creating a niche where your strengths and talents are used in the coordination with the strengths and talents of others, is a win-win situation for everyone – yourself, your coworkers, and your organization.
I’d like to leave you with an example of the power of establishing clear direction.
When Steve Jobs re-assumed control of Apple, he re-focused the company on creating a powerful new operating system, beautiful and highly functional notebook computers, the iPod, and ultimately iTunes.
He accomplished this largely by establishing that the company would lead through uniquely beautiful and functional design. The container he created for the engineers, designers and marketing teams was the elegance of design. This provided a context that informed and guided all work, decisions, investment efforts and team interactions.
And we all know how that worked out.