Research indicates that out of six top leadership traits, many are shared equally between men and women. That is, except for one — vision. Today the leadership gap between male and female executives remains significant, and at the September 2013 WCS meeting startup CEO turned leadership coach Kate Purmal challenged that if women fail to cultivate and execute their visions in the world, it could take nearly 300 years for women to reach parity in the corporate executive and entrepreneurial ranks. Who wants to wait that long? Fortunately, Purmal says, vision can be taught.
“You don’t get what you deserve — you get what you tolerate.” That was the kernel that Kate Purmal urged us to take away from her WCS talk, Cultivate Your Vision. Be Bolder, Play Bigger. Those of us lucky enough to attend were treated to Purmal’s insightful illustration of how to raise the bar on what we tolerate, and in doing so achieve our goals. Very few speakers would inspire me say, “If you get a chance to see this person, run, don’t walk!” Kate Purmal is one of those.
The importance of vision
What’s the key to saving the world? Given the title of Purmal’s presentation, it shouldn’t be surprising that she believes the answer lies in having a vision. Next to honesty, vision is considered the most important trait for a leader. Though the leadership gap between women and men is sobering, Purmal says making gains in the area of vision can speed things up.
Today’s research shows even bright, successful women leave money and opportunities on the table. Many women take themselves out of the running for job openings, feeling they must meet 100% of the criteria — whereas men tend to lobby for positions that they’re only 50 – 60% qualified for.
Purmal told her own story of initially turning down an opportunity to become a CEO, one of several personal accounts that made her talk all the more affecting. When she was urged to apply for the CEO position, she assumed she wasn’t qualified. But she realized that her list of reasons she couldn’t do the job was much longer than her list of what it would take to allow her to do it. The can’t-do list helped her face her fears.
And that’s the case for most of us. So how do we get beyond our fears and cultivate vision?
First, Purmal says we need to understand what vision is, and how visionaries operate:
- Visionaries can peer over the horizon and see in detail what the future might hold. This detailed picture keeps pulling them forward to their goal. That doesn’t mean a vision needs to be rigid and unchanging. In fact, the path to a vision tends to go along a trajectory; when you have a vision, things start aligning with it that you might not have even paid attention to without the vision.
- Visionaries regard comments like “It can’t be done” as a challenge, or simply disregard them altogether. This is important, because there will always be plenty of naysayers.
- Visionaries do not tolerate the status quo.
- Visionaries tend to attribute their success to ordinary execution of an extraordinary idea. In other words, realizing a vision takes diligence and persistence, not any superhuman feat.
- Visionaries are aware of risks, but they tend to see a bigger upside than a downside to risks.
Stepping into your vision
Before you get caught up in the thought that you are not the visionary type, don’t despair! According to Purmal, vision can be taught and is within reach for all of us.
Purmal provides vision coaching and has developed a 3-step process to get in touch with and nurture vision. The part that she says transformed her coaching is stepping into the vision. The idea is to stand and picture where you are now, then envision what your situation will be in 18 months from now. Imagine how that will feel, and step forward into that vision. When you get to the future spot, you can look back and get a better idea of what might have been holding you back from getting to where you want to be. Then take another step into 10 years from now. How does that feel? Now, go back to the present day. What’s holding you back?
Purmal urged us all to take a retreat, ideally with a friend — even if just for a day — and try out the process with a 10-year vision.
The bigger picture
What happens when you master vision? When we play big, Purmal reminded us, we do it not for just ourselves but also for everyone around us. As women, we need to support one another and raise the bar for all of us. Purmal herself is setting a fine example of doing this.
As suffragette Alice Paul’s doctor said, “Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.” Let’s not fall into that trap when envisioning our own ideas. We all have seeds of ideas that can change the world. We need to get in touch with those and summon the courage to bring them to the world.
Rosana Francescato is Director of Communications at Sunible.com, an online marketplace that’s radically simplifying the home solar buying experience. She’s on the board of Women in Cleantech and Sustainability and the steering committee of theLocal Clean Energy Alliance. She’s been the top individual fundraiser at the GRID Alternatives Bay Area Solarthon four years in a row.