A Leader's Most Powerful Tool Is Executive Capital. Here's What It Is — and How to Earn It. This skill is how leaders create something from nothing and leave a lasting legacy.
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Tesla has become a household name, mostly as a successful car company. A notable figure might come to mind when thinking of Tesla, but it's likely not the scientist at the source of the car and the technology behind it.
Nikola Tesla, a physicist and engineer whose numerous inventions are still surprising scientists with relevant applications today, died without fame or great wealth. Despite creating more than 300 patented inventions, he never managed to bring most of his ideas to fruition during his lifetime.
Why? Because Nikola Tesla lacked the executive capital to initiate and complete the great things he saw possible. Leaders need executive capital to translate their visions into a voice that can gain followers to support and ensure the delivery of that vision into reality.
What is executive capital?
Executive capital is the ability of an executive to create, and it relies on three components: vision, voice and delivery. A vision is an executive's lofty and meaningful goal for their business based upon their knowledge and experience. The voice communicates their vision, and delivery is how they translate those ideas into action. Without a voice, no one knows about their vision; without delivery, no one sees it realized. Without vision, nothing new ever happens.
Executive capital depends on all three of these components to exist. Nikola Tesla had a tremendous vision but lacked the social and communication skills to align people around it. He delivered some of his ideas, but without a voice, his delivery was largely irrelevant. Only when others came along later and gave voice to his vision did it begin to influence reality.
Startups have this too — vision but a limited ability to communicate value or deliver on promises. Some companies only have a voice but lack vision or delivery. Leaders of these companies have limited influence because they lack executive capital.
The world is full of information, and it's incredibly disorganized. Having a vision, planning and making decisions are all subjective based on our ability to see order in the data and organize it based on our wealth of knowledge. The quality of our vision depends on how complete of a picture we can see.
Vision comes naturally to most founders. Their ability to see opportunities where others cannot is how they became entrepreneurs in the first place.
Defining a vision starts by setting a high-level goal with some degree of personal meaning. It should be something people will agree is necessary and valuable. Observe the world, identify what's missing, and set out to fill that void: This is where vision emerges.
Related: Your Vision Doesn't Matter Unless You Act on It
Developing executive capital and influence requires communicating your voice to others — your team, potential customers and the world — in a way that means something to them. A vision matters little if no one knows or cares about it. By getting others to support you, your voice will bring your vision to life.
Tesla came to this country with four cents and a vision, so he turned to people like Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan for the support needed to translate his genius into reality. Their established fame and finances gave Tesla the voice he needed to deliver some success.
Achieving lofty goals requires a united force, and executives build up this force by getting others to believe in their vision.
Related: How to Find Your Leadership Voice
Delivery changes the world
Delivery is the successful execution of voice and vision combined. Communication allows people to hear a lofty vision, but consistent delivery aligns people in believing we can achieve it. Delivery is how we change the world.
Tesla managed to light up the 1893 World's Fair with his alternating current technology and win the "Battle of the Currents" against Thomas Edison, but Edison is the one we remember as the "Father of Invention," because he was a good businessman. He took his vision and invested in large-scale research labs to channel and pump out more inventions under his name, earning royalties on consistent delivery and essentially building his executive capital.
Writing can preserve and amplify an executive's vision, but aligning enough people to create the force necessary to bring it into reality requires consistently delivering results in the organization's policies. Think about who you turn to for advice — they're probably the person who delivers the best solutions. These voices help us avoid falling into the same snake pits they did. The longer their solutions prove their correctness, the longer their voice endures in building greater executive capital.
Related: 7 Ways to Influence Other People
The most important capital of all
With executive capital, success begets success. More executive capital assigns more value to your voice, and more voice creates greater value out of that capital. The greater the support behind your vision, the longer it endures, and the more effectively you deliver on your vision's purpose, bringing it to life and driving the value of your executive capital over time.
Overdoing any one component, however, reduces capital. Building up executive capital takes balance — here are five ways to keep it:
- Rightness (being more right than wrong) creates confidence and comes from gathering information, finding order and making better decisions based on greater knowledge and experience.
- Disseminate your rightness by amplifying your vision through voice.
- Align listeners around your vision through positive symbols and a meaningful purpose.
- Demonstrate the rightness of your vision through the effective delivery of its policies.
- For your voice to endure, reinforce your vision with new symbols to align more people, new objectives to achieving it and new purpose as you take in and create order out of what you observe in the world.
The future of leading the curve in executive leadership will be raising the emotional tone of an organization, which can only happen by leveraging executive capital, but it cannot be built alone. The true worth of executive capital comes from how well you distribute, share and use your capital to serve or help others. This is how leaders create a legacy that lasts.