For me, the spring symbolizes the perfect time to challenge oneself to bigger and brighter futures. As I’ve said before, if you lead your company, it can become what you dream it will become. If you manage your company, it will become only what it happens to become.
I know there is more to building a successful business than just dreaming about it. Business success takes planning and effort and strategy; it takes teamwork and finances and support; it takes opportunity and customers; and it also takes a bit of good luck. With a healthy dose of all of these ingredients, success often occurs.
When I was younger, barely more than just an eager entrepreneur, I would often be embarrassed overhearing my mother describe the company I was building to friends. She wasn’t really describing the way the company was at that particular moment; she was describing the way I was dreaming it would be in two years, or perhaps five years. She saw the company only through my eyes, and when I was discussing the fledgling business with her, my eyes were usually focused on some distant point on the horizon — a point down the road, well past whatever challenges stood in the way at that time; a point that I was confident that we would arrive at some time in the future.
Now I recognize the importance of those types of dreams. Our desires dictate our thoughts, and our thoughts precede and dictate our actions. Effective management starts at the thought level. Building a new business, or taking one in a new direction, starts at the dream level.
Later in my career, I had the privilege of mentoring young entrepreneurs in the same fashion that I was fortunate to be mentored by others earlier in my career. I learned that having a vision for the company was a matter of having a clear picture of what the company could, and should, look like in two years, five years and 20 years. Articulating that picture, and then engaging enough individuals to develop the roadmap to get there, are of equal importance. But the size of the dream dictates the scope of the plans, and the scope of the plans set the parameters for the investment of energy, finances and time.
I don’t think there is a formula for success when it comes to building a business based on something as non-tactile as a dream. We can all read the books on Steve Jobs and Apple, but doing everything exactly the way he did would not guarantee any form of success, much less even a glimmer of a chance of the type of success he achieved. When reading excerpts from his story, it seems clear that he didn’t just know what his company was capable of that particular day; he also had a clear picture of what his company would be in the future.
Company leaders have to keep dreaming. Striving to be the best, and succeeding at it, can result in incremental gains when compared to the competition. But if you are aiming for exponential gains, or breaking entirely new ground, it means setting yourself out on a course where you are following no one else, and nothing else, other than your dreams. That doesn’t mean that due diligence and prudent management are abandoned. Good management is always needed in concert with good leadership. Setting the right course is good leadership, and following it is good management.
This column originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.