Excellent leaders understand the importance of a big vision — in fact, inspiring a bold vision is one of the key practices of Arrive and Thrive: 7 Impactful Practices for Women Navigating Leadership. This is the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination. A visionary looks forward and creates a mental image of the ideal state that an individual, team, unit or organization wishes to achieve. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what inspiring a bold vision means to my own personal leadership style. I realized it’s the little moments that matter most.
When a bold vision really matters
For the past three years I have served as the Executive Producer for the Simmons Leadership Conference. At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, I was asked to think about if and then how we could convert the entire in-person event to an online production — in just five weeks. The funny thing is I never wondered if — I was always focused on the how. I looked at the challenge with excitement and immediately crafted a vision of what the virtual conference could be. In such a short time frame, it was clear the only way it would work was to gather amazing resources — both our Simmons team and our partners — and rally the group around a big, bold shared vision. And rally we did, rising to the challenge to produce a highly polished, engaging and emotionally touching virtual experience in 2020. Looking back, I learned that having a bold vision is only step one.
Like most things — the little moments matter most. How do they really contribute to big vision? In the past three virtual productions of the Simmons Leadership Conference — I have learned the little moments are what allow the big vision to breathe.
Knowing when to pause not push
Our Simmons team is made up of incredible, dedicated individuals who believe in the work they do to help women meet their leadership goals and potential. I am proud to say that is our baseline — so I know we are lucky. This year, we also had new vendor partners, which meant incredible and experienced resources — and it also meant a lot of time teaching and learning together. But after the slog of three years in a global pandemic and in light of the social unrest in the US and abroad — this year felt particularly heavy. Collectively, we had hit a wall — the team could no longer rely on the spark of adrenaline and the sheer excitement that held us together in 2020 and 2021. And it was clear as we neared the conference date it was taking a toll on all of us.
As a leader, I was so tempted to push everyone forward — with things like “we can do this” or “I’ll take that off your plate” because after all we had precious little time before the cameras would be live. But I knew something was off — so after a couple of sleepless nights I realized something critical. My team needed a pause not a push. So just days before the conference I called our team together and did just that…. and the outcome felt magical.
I asked the team to join me for a 20-minute huddle. I asked them to look around at the zoom squares and really see their colleagues, partners and teammates. Then I asked each of them to breathe and think about a moment in the last few days where they saw a colleague shine. Without calling on any one, I asked them to share around the room in a popcorn compliment style. No order, no hierarchy and — maybe most importantly — no responses allowed other than a graceful thank you. Organically, we found a way to connect so that everyone had a chance to speak and everyone was celebrated. There were laughs and there were tears. In the next moment, I asked us all to find a way to write down what we had just heard about ourselves. Write it down and read it — and I went so far as to ask them to put in their line of vision.
Letting the big vision breathe — through personal connection
In this simple act of hitting pause it was like I could see and feel our team breathing again. For 20 solid minutes we stopped to be grateful and to share our gratitude. It reset the whole experience of the next few days. There was no more flurry or panic — rather there was a firm belief in the role that each person played and the way that each person was “seen” by their teammates. Collectively we allowed the big vision to breathe.
So what do I take away from this leadership moment?
Never underestimate the value of hitting pause to allow your big vision to breathe. Because of this moment together with the team — we’ve never felt so centered and ready for lights, camera, action!