The Frustrations of a Visionary Leader
“My employees are just doing their job”
“Our results are good, but not great. My organization is too slow. We have agreed on the changes we want, but it is not happening. I keep getting, surprises, bad news and complaints. And no one seems to be taking responsibility for them. They keep coming to me instead of solving the issues among themselves. I feel I am running so much faster than they are and they are not catching up. “
Frustrations such as these are a clear indication that we are talking to a visionary leader. He or she has a vision of how things could be better, a desire to get there and the drive to make it happen now. Not all companies are lucky to have such visionary leaders. Many leaders assume that a general state of confusion and politics is normal, and their job is simply to navigate through it the best they can.
The visionary leader sees his frustrations as an opportunity. Not only does he know that he can create a more powerful organization. He also knows that his competition might not even try. And that is exactly the opportunity for a sustainable competitive advantage.
His vision is what some people call a Healthy Organization. A company where its employees are aligned behind one common goal and collaborate efficiently to reach it. A company which is able to fully tap into every employee’s expertise and skills and apply them to its products and services. A company where surprises, delays and passivity are replaced by results, accountability, speed, innovation and collaboration.
But one thing is having the vision, another is knowing how to turn it into reality.
Personally, I did not know how to create a healthy organization when – in 2004 – I became General Manager for Procter & Gamble in China. Not only was I a frustrated leader, I had to do something about it fast or the business would collapse. I took over 2 product divisions, each with 2 000 competitors, 3 000 TV stations, 5 million retail outlets, an exploding internet and a society whose needs were changing by the day. Though we were growing at 15%, it felt that losing our balance for a second would plunge us into chaos and failure. Some of our competitors were growing faster than us, and if we failed to accelerate, we would be losing market share.
3 years later, we were growing at 30% with best-in-class profit margins, and we had taken over market leadership in every category and in every niche. And for the first time in 50 years, P&G had taken marked leadership away from arch rival Colgate outside of the US.
What made it all possible was that I had begun to discover and use the practical and tangible steps to improve organizational health. Less confusion and politics, more alignment and collaboration. Fewer surprises and rework, more ownership and accountability. My employees were no longer just doing their job, they were committed. These are the exact results which books and researchers identify as the key to success, but which they cannot explain how to create in real life.
So when taking over Copenhagen Airports as CEO in 2007, I was ready. This time, I had to create an organization which was not just healthy internally, but also externally with the 550 companies and 25 000 employees located inside the airport and needed to give passengers and airlines the services they needed. In 3 years, the airport went from growing well below the European average to being the fastest growing major airport in Europe. The low-cost airlines voted Copenhagen the best low-cost airport in the world, passenger satisfaction moved back in the top 10 and retail turnover skyrocketed.
For some years now, I have been looking for frustrated, but visionary leaders. They are great to work with. They are ready and they know where they are going. They want to create a healthy organization, they believe it is possible and they know it is their best chance for a sustainable competitive edge. I share the steps to create clarity throughout the organization, aligning behind a common goal and building the kind of collaboration which gets results.
It all starts with the frustrations of a visionary leader.