May 4, 20241 minute to read — Tags: leadership, management

I love this aphorism about visionary leadership paraphrasing Saint-Exupéry:

“Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love.”

a busy shipyard with the ocean in the background

A shared vision obviates many management tasks. People make good decisions with little explicit project management, communication, and coordination. Without a shared vision, management overhead grows exponentially.

When leaders decide that employees are not working effectively toward their vision, a particular mistake they can make is to introduce a goal framework (like OKRs) and begin managing to those targets.

I have not seen this work: managing to targets will not fix a vague vision, lack of focus, or incoherent strategy. In fact, it can lead to disengagement as employees grapple with the dissonance between the official management goals, and what they believe is important. Better to fix the root cause.

In contrast, if an organization has a clear shared vision, I’ve seen OKRs and managing to targets accelerate execution and clarify tradeoffs. Goals can be a useful management tool.

If you’re tempted to use goals to improve performance, first check if your team has a clear and compelling vision.

Aaron Suggs
Hi, I'm Aaron Suggs. 😀👋

Welcome to my personal blog. I manage engineering teams at Instructure, previously Lattice, Glossier and Kickstarter. I live in Chapel Hill, NC. Find me on LinkedIn, and GitHub.