Building a Vision for Leadership

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Building a Vision for Leadership

” … the biggest difference between being a CEO today and one a generation or so back is the speed of change. We’re all on treadmills. You never ‘get there.’ You don’t get there anymore, because goals change and capabilities change so rapidly. You need a mind-set where you’re comfortable with this new kind of environment. Again, that’s a trait as good business owners become great CEOs and leaders. They’re very open and ready to accept change. As a result, they create a learning organization. We have to train, retrain and then do it over again.”

– Hans Becherer, Chairman & CEO, Deere & Company “Lessons from the Top: The Search for America’s Best Business Leaders”

Interrogating Reality

Leaders must be able to look unflinchingly at the realities of their organization, and of the marketplace. The status quo can never be “good enough.” There are always ways to do things better or smarter.

To “interrogate reality,” a leader should ask:

  • What values do we stand for? Are we being our word?
  • Is there a gap between the values we espouse and the way our business actually performs?
  • What skills and talents do we have? Are we hiring to our culture, core values?
  • Do these resources match the demands of the marketplace? If not, why?
  • What opportunities are available for us in the future?
  • Do we presently have the capacity to seize upon these opportunities?

In the “old days,” leaders were expected to come up with the answers themselves. Today, with peer-to-peer advisory groups small to mid size business owners, CEOs must continually pose the questions and rally their followers to provide the appropriate response.

Defining the Future

Leaders must think about the future; after all, they’re the ones guiding their businesses into unfamiliar, uncharted waters. If they don’t “define the future,” they will be obliged to fall back on past organizational precedents to deal with new situations.

The problem is, the dizzying pace of change in today’s world makes this approach virtually irrelevant.

“CEOs don’t necessarily come with a built-in vision of the company’s future,” says Vistage speaker Lee Thayer. “They start to develop one by asking themselves, ‘What is my dream? What difference do I want to make in the world?’ The process of articulating an answer leads to translating a vision for the entire organization.”

The vision has to be both feasible and far-reaching. If it doesn’t involve stretching a company’s resources and capabilities, it won’t be much of a vision. The business environment in the new millennium will likely generate fundamental changes in the marketplace; the leader’s vision must incorporate this possibility.

When formulating a vision, ask basic questions about its effect on the company’s primary stakeholders:

  • If the vision becomes a reality, how will it affect our customers?
  • For customers who are happy today, will this vision keep them that way?
  • For those who aren’t entirely happy today, will this make them happier?
  • For people who don’t buy from us now, will this attract them?
  • In a few years, will we do a better job than our competition of offering increasingly superior products and services that customers really need?

Vistage speaker Ben Gill urges CEOs to build a vision by expanding their intellectual horizons. “Get out of the office and explore the world around you,” he says. “Attend leadership seminars. Read cutting-edge books. Visit with other CEOs in organizations like Vistage.” And spend time with key customers: “Don’t become complacent, thinking you’re giving customers what they want. Find out what they’re waiting for someone to develop in the future.”

Clarity of Direction

Businesses thrive on a sense of purpose and direction. The leader’s job is to remind people why they’re working long hours and giving their best. Beyond that, the leader provides a clear direction for people to follow.

“The process either evolves with the executive team or starts when the CEO has an epiphany about the business and storms into the office looking for disciples,” says Vistage Chair and speaker Don Schmincke. “Leaders set the tone and the pace for change. Their compelling agenda invigorates employees and, if successful, spills over to the customers. It becomes the organization’s destiny — something shared by everyone involved.”

What else does having a clear direction accomplish?

  • It resolves internal disagreements over minor operational issues.
  • It frees people and resources to work toward achieving the organization’s vision.
  • It clears the deck of expensive, time-consuming (and, in the end, unnecessary) projects.

Our Vistage speakers emphasize the strong personal commitment leaders should bring to their vision. “The impact is measured by the CEO’s heart rate when talking about the vision,” Schmincke says. “If the heart is beating faster, then it’s a good vision. It has answered the ‘why’ of the organization.”

Thayer adds: “A CEO must create a fanatical vision that’s larger than anything else in life. If not, the CEO may call himself a ‘leader,’ but in fact is only the ‘head’ of an organization.”

Let me end with Bill Hawfield’s ( Vision Planning exercise. Imagine yourself in a conference room with your leadership team or key employees. Your goal is to align your team, yourself with what’s most important, most strategic in a 30 minute exercise. Handout those 2”x 4” stickies or Post-it’s and have everyone one come up with 7 words on 7 stickies and create your VISION AFFINITY WALL. Start with a left to right positioning of someone’s 7 words then have the rest place theirs under or to the left or right of those already on the wall. In a short period of time, your team will create clusters of what’s most important, needs to get done.


Have a family filled July 4th weekend.



Did you know that a 1.56% monthly rate of change will enable you to double your revenue in 3 year?

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Here’s a one page way to get there.

Patrick Lencioni sixteen years ago wrote his leadership fable titled “The FOUR OBSESSIONS of an EXTRAORDINARY EXECUTIVE”. Here’s a  link to his Friday with Vistage webinar

His focus was on:

  1. Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team
  2. Create organizational clarity
  3. Over-communicate organizational charity
  4. Reinforce organizational charity through human system

His book can be read in a weekend (180 pages) worth the purchase and read. February 15 & 16, 2017 Michael Lorsch, from The Table Group will be in Austin leading a 3 hour workshop for business leaders through Lencioni’s thought process.

Task: do a visual planning session with post-its (stickies) with your team and prioritize the top 3 groupings needed to reach and exceed your intended outcome. Pick a topic: process improvement, problem, opportunity and have each of your team come up with 7 words on 7 different post-it’s and create your infinity wall. You will amazed in how quick clarity is found and how much you learn about the real issues facing you.



Setting realistic weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals, objectives and targets and holding your team accountable is a step in the right direction to double your revenue in 3 years.


Ed Stillman is a 10 year Vistage Chair and facilitates 4 peer-to-peer Austin advisory groups. Email me at and let’s connect and see if I can assist you in becoming a better leader making better decisions.

Austin Downtown Business Owners

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…walk to a “Visual Planning” Work at 823 Congress Avenue – 2nd Floor conference Room – Room 215


Bill Hawfield flies in from Southern California for a morning workshop introducing storyboarding techniques pioneered by Walt Disney. This Visual Planning Workshop is a thinking process that clarifies how we think, expands creativity and insures a wide scope of possible solutions to complex business problems. Key discussion topics include: strategic thinking, brain storming, Six Thinking Hats and much much more.

Value to members and guests: This process yields significant dividends in team building, facilitation skills development, thinking through problems, priorities, schedules and goals.

Bill is a CEO turned consultant. After running companies for General Mills he started his own company, Penguin’s Frozen Yogurt, eventually sold his company to a giant and lived to tell about it.


This is a FREE workshop for Downtown Austin business owners, Presidents and CEOs wanting to become better leaders, making better decisions. We will start at 830am and expect Bill to start around 845am. You should be back in your office by 11:30am.


Vistage International is the world’s leading executive membership organization. Locally, Vistage flies in 6 to 8 speakers a month to assist their Austin members in moving from good to great leaders. This is one chairs’ approach in giving back to the Austin Business Community. If you are viewing this, please forward to someone you care deeply about that could benefit by being in a advisory peer group with 200 plus years of successful leadership. Our core values are Trust, Caring, Challenge and Growth.

Please RSVP to:

Ed Stillman: Mobile/text 512.422.6232

(Seating is limited)

Austin Business Owners – “…a look around the corner”

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The Vistage Executive Summit is next Wednesday! Last chance to join me to hear from Alan Beaulieu, ITR Economics President and Vistage lead economist. His morning 2 hour “around the world” view of leading indicators in an exclusive, invitation-only setting with over 350 of the brightest business leaders in the Austin and Central Texas. He sees a recession in 2nd half of 2018 and a 1930 depression in 2030. I hope to see you there! For a view of our agenda, speaker content & bio plus a look at Who’s Coming link to

Use promo code Stillman16 when registering and be my guest.

Ed Stillman, Senior Chair Austin 512.422.6232 (mobile & text)


Austin Business Owners

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I have a few RSVP spots left for an exclusive, invite-only event on 4/6. Join me to gain actionable takeaways that you can immediately apply to grow your business – and your leadership skills – while connecting with some of the brightest business executives in the Austin area. Use promo code Stillman16 to register and save $795.

Bold Leadership Summit – Austin Texas

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Join me on April 6 to hear from an impressive group of thought leaders – world-class speakers who will deliver high energy presentations and equip you with tools to help you become a bold leader and take your business to the next level.

Ed Stillman

Austin Business Owners – Is it time for a personal CPR Audit?

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(Communication —- Priorities—-Roles)

When I say personal, I’m not referring to your annual personal health check up, yet when was your last one? I am referencing to your personal behavior as a business owner. Bob Dabic, Vistage Master Chair and Speaker, flew in from Orange County the 3rd week in January and conducted 5 (3 hour) workshops in 3 days on Aligned Leadership. This is the 1st of 5 blogs and my expectation is that after you scan this article, find a nugget or two, save it for you and your leadership team to take a deeper dive. If compelling, forward it to a business owner colleague, friend or family member you care deeply about.


CPR – Communication, Priorities and Roles – Thoughts and words worth considering and several Questions you could/should be asking as the owner?
Is it your belief that supervisors and managers are hired and compensated to give answers to their direct reports, while leaders ask questions.


Communication – Are you crystal clear with your company Vision, Mission, Values, Goals and Objectives for 2016, 2017 and EOY 2018? Shouldn’t you be? Phrases like:

Priorities – First things 1st and second things never or “Less is More”.

Roles – Do each of your direct reports know what is expected of them each month, by end of each quarter, for EOY 2016?

If you are still with me,- let me attempt to build a case that the above audit description is the foundation for a healthy, robust and profitable company and the gateway to establishing and setting measurable business metrics that will increase your employee retention and reduce your turnover.


Communication starts with creating your VISION, which to me is a “shared” statement or a Big/Hairy/Audacious/Goal (BHAG) that each of your employees are striving towards over the next three to five years. Think of what your future destination will look like and the internal transformational benefits once you arrive. Your MISSION focuses on the people you serve and products or services you currently provide. One could see this as a “heart warming purpose” on why you exist. Example: We help bring people and commerce together?


Priorities start with your company VALUES which are the principles/ideals/guidelines to which your employees can refer and that guide all decisions and behaviors in order to do what is right for each other and your customers. Examples: Respect, Integrity, Safety, Trust, Caring, Challenge, Quality, and Growth. In essence, this is your playground so think how you could put a fence around it because if you don’t your employees will create their own set of values. Dabic shared GOALS are numerical targets that are “Reachable” and “Stretched” (bigger than Reachable). Crystal clear objectives for all to see: 1 to 3 numerical and measurable plus 1 to 2 goals for personal growth and development.


Roles-During During Bob’s 3-hour workshop, he built a case for “no B or C players”. Poor performers have to choose to either step up or step out. During your regularly scheduled one-to-one’s, what if you focused on a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP) for your C players to become B players and your B players to become A players? What would it mean to you if the majority of your employees were A players? Self managed department, teams and individuals might be an outcome.

Which would improve or create complete alignment throughout your organization. Increased deliverables of your brand promise, increased revenue and profits and imagine you working 20% less hours a week to improve your work/life balance. If your roles are kind of “fuzzy”, what you tolerate will become policy.


In closing, don’t you pay 100% of what you owe; you make every payroll, don’t you? Let this CPR (Communication, Priorities and Roles) focus assist you in auditing you and your leadership team on what you are currently getting in return.


Ed Stillman

Austin CEO Group Chairman



Ed Stillman is a 9 year Vistage Chair with 2 CEO Advisory groups who is assisting his members to become good to better and even great leaders running great companies. If you live in Austin and want to take a deeper dive into aligning your leadership team and growing your top and bottom lines, let’s have a cup of coffee and see if we are a good fit for you, and you for my members.


If you live anywhere else in the United States or the world, connect with me and I’ll personally see that a client representative will reach out to you. We are in 18 countries, with 20,000 plus members creating a better balance between business commitments, personal relationships and their spiritual walk. We will make a difference.