Execution: The Forgotten Part of Leadership?

I think that there may be a shift taking place along the leadership horizon from an overemphasis on vision back to a neglected emphasis on execution. As I listen to what leaders are talking about to their staffs, and what they are putting the focus on in their organizations, I notice that more and more of them are putting a larger emphasis on the execution side of the equation.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the importance of vision. We need it. Too many organizations lack a compelling vision that unifies them, and leaders must accept the responsibility to inspire a shared vision that creates passion and excitement about the future. However, as has been said, “Vision without execution is just hallucination.” If we have created the impression within the organization that execution takes a backseat, then we may have oversold the importance of vision just a bit.

The key has to be keeping a balance. There must be a balance between vision and execution, between leadership and management, and between change and continuity. It has to be both/and—not either/or.  Neglect either vision or execution, and sooner than later, your organization will stop showing the signs of health—and they will be replaced with the telltale signs of a floundering team.

So what does it take to keep the balance between execution and vision? I suppose in some ways it’s like riding a bicycle: you have to keep pedaling. Vision expires and executions requires. As the leader, you are not the sole source of vision, nor must you be the fountain of vision. However, you cannot delegate vision. You have to include others, but no one can legitimately initiate vision without you. Vision runs through your office. Whether you are good at it or not, and whether you enjoy it or not, letting your organization run without fresh vision is like running your car on empty—responsible leaders just don’t do it.

At the same time (and, I do mean at the same time!) you have to give execution the attention it requires. It requires establishing clear expectations and scheduling regular inspections. As someone I heard say recently, “Don’t expect what you do not inspect.” Sounds impossible, right?  It’s not, but it requires discipline and establishing a culture of doing, not just talking. The most helpful advice I’ve held on to when it comes to getting things done is a simple proverb that can be paraphrased like this: “If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done.”

There’s never a perfect time for getting things done. Execution always has to be done in a context of being understaffed, overworked, and underfunded. If you wait for those things to be perfect, you’ll never get anything done. That’s the shift I hear leaders starting to make. The excuse that we can’t because…and the dream of “we would if we could” is giving way to the grittiness of execution. That is the freeway to success that great visions drive on.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Chief Operations Officer, Strategic Government Resources

2 responses

  1. Very well stated Mike;
    Sometimes we really cannot see the trees for the forest. It seems that a lot of times when something happens in our society we want to “implement” a new law when we
    would be better served to “enforce” the ones we already have!

    That goes right back to executing the plan of the vision!

    1. You are right, Charles. It reminds me of the saying that “Managers do things right and Leaders do the right things.” However, as you have noted, we have to be both and we have to be good at both! Thanks for reading!

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