The Vector Model of Leadership
You are among the first! To my knowledge, the combination of concepts I’m about to share have never been put together this way before. They came to me as I was assisting a federal government agency’s leaders gain traction among employees with their newly crafted vision and mission. An internet search revealed nothing quite like it. Judge for yourself if this is not an intuitively self-evident combination of concepts.
Alpha and Omega.
The beginning and the end. Vector theory begins with facing reality, it ends with achieving a vision. High performance leaders know we can’t make progress if we don’t have an accurate idea of our present performance reality, nor can we make progress if we don’t have a clear vision of a desired future that we’re trying to make progress toward.
Present Reality Check
So we investigate, we assess, we hold focus meetings, we do organizational surveys, we gather facts to get an accurate picture of our present performance reality. Finances and market stats are often the primary measuring sticks but assessment of our talent pool and organizational culture are also critical, although difficult to measure. So we put all the information regarding how we’re doing as an organization into a box that gives us a clear (as possible) view of our present performance reality.
Vision of a Desired Future
From where we are now we then formulate a concept of how we want to be at some future time. This is the beginning of our Vision of a desirable future that is better than our present reality (Figure 1.) Having a worthwhile vision, specific, and clearly articulated, is a hallmark of a great leader. The great leader says, “I have a dream . . .” or, “Let me describe to you what I think we are capable of accomplishing together.” The vision is often created in a collaborative effort; an aggregation and evolution of ideas. But the vision means nothing without buy-in from the many.
Vector of Success
Planning a feasible pathway from the Present Reality to the Vision of a Desired Future is critical. We analyze conditions, project outcomes, and strain our minds to figure out what critical success factors are required to get us there. We set goals based on the critical success factors. We measure our progress by setting up measuring sticks, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The feasible pathway is our Vector of Success. A vector has two components: direction and magnitude. Direction is the straight line from here to there. Magnitude is how much talent, skill and energy is driving us from here to there.
Perfectly From Here to There
Getting from here to there is done through other people. In a perfect world all people in the organization would understand the Vision perfectly and work toward the Vision perfectly (Figure 2.) The sum of the efforts of each individual employee would add up perfectly to achieve the Vision.
In the imperfect real world, however, a new reality sets in. Other people don’t follow the Vector of Success. This occurs universally to one degree or another, due to five possible causes:
- they don’t understand the Vision
- they don’t know how to get there
- they don’t agree with the Vision
- they don’t agree with the Vector
- they just don’t care
The result is we have a bit of chaos in the individual vectors of the employees (Figure 3.) Each vector that does not align with the Vector of Success reveals an inefficiency. Sometimes we have employees who, like Employee A and Employee B in Figure 3, work in equal and opposite directions of the vertical axis, and their net result is zero. What a waste!
Misaligned individual vectors cannot be avoided. The big secret to the Vector of Success is course correction. The Apollo 11 moon flight was reportedly off course 90% of the time (Charles Garfield, 1997), yet landed within 15 feet of its intended destination. This was accomplished by two key continuous elements: a feedback system, and course corrections. We need to become informed when we’re off course, and we need to be willing and able to make corrections to get us back on the intended course.
These concepts seem self-evident to us because we all experience them. Consider learning to play a sport or a musical instrument. We practice over and over again and get better and better. If we’re lucky we have an expert coach or instructor to help us make corrections quicker. Consider employees we know who are unsuccessful. Isn’t it often that they just don’t see that they’re off course? Maybe they’re not getting the feedback they need from us. What if we the leaders don’t see that we’re off course? Beyond the bumbling that goes on when the blind lead the blind, what does it say about our feedback system? If we have one at all, is it giving us feedback that is accurate, timely, and relevant? A feedback system provides an update on our Present Reality. When feedback has identified the need for a course correction, how do we do it? When correcting employees there are specific skills necessary to make it effective and constructive, that we won’t go into here.
Were I your leadership coach/consultant we would discuss, and figure out the answers together, to these and other questions:
- How would you describe your present reality?
- How do you know your understanding is accurate?
- How would you describe your clear and detailed vision of a desired better future?
- How well do your employees understand the vision and their part in getting there?
- What feedback mechanisms do you have to identify when someone is off course?
- What corrective mechanisms do you have in place for one who is off course?
Imagine with me, what life will be like when our employees understand, are committed to, and have the skills to achieve with us a shared noble vision of a better future for the organization. Now that is a vision worth fighting for.
Doug Lundrigan, MBA