Leading by Vision – “Man kann auch in Schönheit sterben.”

In interviews, one is often asked: “How do you lead people?”. Leading your own team might be relatively easy if you are their disciplinary manager (but also this is changing increasingly…).

What do you do if you “have to make people listen to you who don’t have to?” (as one NOKIA HR Manager has always put it). I strongly believe that this is the moment to become serious about the “content” and less about the “process”. You cannot solely lead by KPIs or by driving process milestones. You need to answer the “why.” Now imagine a situation where you have to lead really strong people like founders, product owners or senior engineers. What makes people listen to your ideas and follow you?

During the first ten years of my career, I believed it was all about money and job titles. You could buy the loyalty of your employees without having to satisfy their demand for great stuff to work on. You could get any UX person if you just offer a nice title and a decent salary. This was the type of arrogance of people wearing suits and owning the P&L. I was so wrong. I found myself in situations where I had to sell the role to an interesting candidate – and had nothing meaningful to say beyond “our organization is big” or “your salary is attractive.”

When talking about “leading by vision” I don´t mean the fluffy high flying vague kind of thing. I mean a concrete and tangible artifact. At one of my previous companies, we identified so-called “north stars” aka products that would guide us the way. We built a vision type to illustrate the concept as concretely as possible. It is hard and sometimes almost impossible. But you have to try. If you get this right, no, let´s say exciting for your (potential) followers then they will listen and come. The rest is empowerment and excellent management. Don´t let go. Also, monitor progress and ruthlessly push for the execution of the vision. In German, there is a saying: “Man kann auch in Schönheit sterben.”