“We have a strong vision and a clear plan for growing the company in the future,” Sarah, the CEO, told me with complete confidence during a recent strategy session.
Her CFO disagreed: “We have no vision.”
Various members of her executive team shared similar sentiments privately with my team and me. Many expressed anxiety; they had no idea where the company was headed.
So what had happened? How could the CEO be 100 percent confident while her team was plagued by doubts?
This scenario where the CEO has one vision in mind while others within the company have another is a classic example of a disconnect between leaders and their teams. The worst part of the misalignment is that the CEO thinks everyone is in agreement.
Differing perspectives about a company’s future can arise because:
- The vision has not been communicated clearly – Perhaps it was a simple communication issue. Either Sarah had not fully described her vision or the team was having difficulty understanding what she had told them. This could be solved by restating the vision and answering questions about the company’s future.
- Disagreement over the vision – On the other hand, maybe Sarah did share her vision, but her executives disagreed with her on the direction of the company. In this case, it would be helpful to have an open dialogue about why people disagree. Perhaps Sarah was a visionary with a great idea that the executives couldn’t quite grasp yet. Or, perhaps she was too wrapped up in her own perspective and was missing warning signs that the executives could clearly see.
- There is no vision – Sometimes, a CEO does not actually have a clear vision to lead the company forward, even if they think they do. Sarah’s ideas may not be fully developed, or her perspective may be unrealistic given the current market. In this scenario, the first step would be for Sarah to acknowledge the problem and work with her executive team to develop a strong vision for the company.
In this case, Sarah did have a vision but had failed to communicate it clearly to the rest of the team. And, most of the executive and management team was afraid to express their concerns with her. This is understandable. It can be intimidating to disagree with your boss! During the strategy session, we used our role as third-party advisors, and some proprietary tools, to facilitate a dialogue that clarified and deepened everyone’s understanding of the company’s vision.
Having these conversations is necessary for successful strategic growth. You can’t be successful if half of your team is lost or confused. If you find yourself in this situation, I encourage you to foster a dialogue with your team. Try an internal strategy meeting, writing down your vision statement and creating a culture where people can speak openly with you.
Because people can be hesitant to be honest with you, sometimes you might need to use an anonymous survey to get feedback. Or to break through the communication barrier, you can host a strategy session facilitated by an outside third party, like the one we had with Sarah and her team.
Remember as the CEO or president you’re not single-handedly taking the company into the future. While you might be the leader, it takes a team to help a company grow and execute a strategy. Make sure everyone on your team is following the same path.