One day you write down a dream and it changes your life. A few years later you read a bestselling book and it completely changes how you lead. Along the way you realize that your dream will not come true unless you invest in becoming a better leader.
During my leadership journey all of these three things happened to me. In the first instance, I was studying business administration at the University of Windsor. At the time, Windsor was a hotbed of men's university basketball (today both the men and women kick ass) and I loved the game. But, knowing with absolute certainty that no on-court pro career awaited me, I decided that my dream would be to run an NBA franchise one day. In 1967 that was a very ambitious dream as there were only twelve NBA teams in existence, and none of them was in Canada. Toronto actually had one of the very first NBA franchises. The Toronto Huskies played in the old Maple Leaf Gardens for one year during the 1946-1947 season and, after a 22-36 win-loss record, quickly disbanded.
At the time I first had my basketball dream I did something else really important – I wrote my dream down in a journal that I was keeping. Years later I would come across research proving that if a person has a dream (or a vision, or objective) and writes it down, they have a significantly better chance of realizing their dream than someone who does not.
Fourteen years later, then a rookie president at Hostess Foods, I would read the book In Search of Excellence, and it convinced me that having a clear corporate vision and values could help a company be more successful. I then used the authors' suggested approach in three different companies and it worked very well with each of them.
Lastly, I invested continuously in making my dream come true by studying leadership voraciously and getting my ticket punched in three different industries. That experience not only helped me eventually attain my dream job as president of the Toronto Raptors and then of MLSE, but my investment in my own leadership development ultimately enabled me to realize long-term business success. Note that I specifically said "business success," because during my tenure at MLSE we generated excellent business results that increased enterprise value six times over, to two billion dollars, although we had no real success on the ice, court, or pitch. I don't believe, as some have intimated, that our focus on vision and values at MLSE was a distraction that somehow detracted from the performance of our sports franchises. Simply put, I – along with our owners, our general managers, coaches, scouts, and players – did not get the job done with any of our teams.
Over the years I read and studied some vision statements that were way too long. Our vision statements at both Pillsbury and SkyDome were very effective, but I always thought they were still way too long for people to really remember them. MLSE's vision and values statement was very easy to remember, at only eighteen words:
Excite our fans
Inspire our people
Dedicated to our teams
Leaders in the community
Passion. Pride. Performance.
Interestingly, when I taught at MLSE I often asked our employees to write down our vision statement from memory, and every time I did 100 per cent of the staff knew it word for word.
With our vision to "WIN," our driving goal was to do that both on and off the playing field. Win championships with our four teams, and win off the playing field by growing both profits and enterprise value. Our four values addressed our fans, employees, teams and community. When Tim Leiweke took over as MLSE's chief executive officer he claimed the company did not have a vision to win. But he was very mistaken! Yes, we were not winning on the playing field, but I knew that we had a clear winning vision off the playing field. From our positive research on employee attitudes, from walking the talk, and from comparing our financial metrics with all the teams in the NBA, MLS, and NHL, I clearly knew that our business results and our people were winners off the playing field.
Upon joining MLSE, Leiweke also boldly claimed he was going to bring a winning culture to the teams. He said the Leafs were "close," but on his watch the team registered only eighty-four points in the 2013-14 season and sixty-eight points in 2014-15, easily missing the playoffs both years. And, after spending about $100-million on new TFC player signings, in 2013 he confidently predicted football success (by the way, you'll notice that I always refer to "the beautiful game" as football, not soccer): "Mark it down, write it down, film it … we're going to turn around TFC and we're going to make the playoffs." Instead, TFC's payroll became easily the highest in Major League Soccer and the team finished thirteenth, once again out of the playoffs. Ironically, Leiweke's broken crystal ball said that the Raptors were a work in progress. But then he did make a wise decision by signing GM Masai Ujiri, and Masai did a smart thing re-signing coach Dwane Casey.
Leiweke's failure at MLSE reminded me of a story I once heard. It seems two presidents were talking about the progress they were making with their corporate vision and values. One president asked the other how he was doing. The other president said, "I don't know yet; I have only been at it for five years." The point here is that it is easy to make bold vision statements, but it is especially hard to deliver on them; and it takes a long time to build them into the DNA of the company. And as I will talk about in Lesson 18, it is tough to win it all in business and even tougher to do it in sports.
A winning vision statement is a compelling, reinforcing, inspiring statement of intent – something seen in a dream even. Astronaut Chris Hadfield said that a good dream has to be a real stretch: "Give yourself a dream right on the edge of possible." I think short, inspirational vision statements are best. Like the one The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre has, "To conquer cancer in our lifetime," or Disney's original mission statement, "Make people happy."
Or there are the very personal dreams that are not written down, but an effective driving force just the same. For instance, basketball player Muggsy Bogues was never, ever going to be more than five-foot-three-inches tall, but he still wanted to play in the NBA, where the average player height was sixteen inches taller at six-foot-seven. Despite his severe height handicap, Muggsy had a solid college career at Wake Forest, was taken twelfth in the draft, and went on to have a successful fourteen-year career in the NBA. He made up for his height handicap by being an exceptional passer and one of the fastest players on the court. It was fun to have him with the Raptors at the end of his career.
As I read about and practiced having a personal or corporate vision, I began to accumulate a list of tangible pluses that come from having one. In no particular order, here are a few key advantages of defining a clear vision:
Makes it clear to everyone WHAT you or your company want to be, WHAT you want to accomplish.
Gives you or your organization a unique purpose.
Explains to others the enduring purpose of the organization.
Brings a focus to the allocation of resources.
Helps speed up decision making.
Makes a company more resilient during the inevitable bad times. I know MLSE's vision and values helped our employees safely navigate through a couple of ugly work stoppages in the NHL and NBA.
To make sure that the vision is successfully driven deep into your organization, it is important that it is rock solid and does not drift with the trends and fashions of the day. MLSE's vision and values hardly changed over fourteen years and, therefore, became deeply engrained into our corporate culture. After I retired, however, they were changed twice in less than two years, which likely presents a number of challenges to leadership and employees alike. Frequently chopping and changing something as fundamental as your vision or values statement can be confusing, disruptive, and may mean the vision and values are not followed at all. Your vision and values statements should be a beacon for the organization, a moral compass that remains constant and consistent over time.
When I heard that MLSE's original vision and values had not survived my retirement, I expressed my disappointment to a past vice president of the company, Beth Robertson. Beth made me feel a little better when she told me, "They live in the people that worked for you and they shaped them as leaders." Thanks, Beth.
Today, a leadership approach that emphasizes vision and values is not as popular in organizations as it once was. There are still a number of leading companies that practice the theory very well, but there are more that either do it very badly or do not do it at all. And one can easily find a number of voices that will tell you that vision and values are just a soft and cuddly waste of time.
For example, author David Axson comes down hard on vision statements, dismissing them as being "a long awkward sentence that demonstrates management's inability to think clearly." Well, that definitely hasn't been my experience and, because they have been so central to my career success, Vision and Values are the first two lessons in this book. This Japanese proverb sums up nicely just how important I think they are to leadership success: "A vision without action is a daydream; action without a vision is a nightmare."
From 21 Leadership Lessons: Successes, Failures, and Discoveries from a Life in Business and Sports. Published by Viva Leadership Group. Copyright © Richard Peddie, 2015. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. The book excerpt was edited and condensed for length.