Leading with a vision is one of the most powerful tools in our tool belt, but it’s also one of the most poorly used.
Visions are our goals for the future—the future we are taking action to create. When led well, they are self-fulfilling prophecies that inspire others to act in ways that support them. They also help us make sense of an ambiguous and uncertain world by providing a path forward. For some reason, it seems as though the universe tilts in a way to help our visions become a reality, especially those we are the most committed to creating.
To be effective, visions should be clear and compelling. Taking a look at most corporate visions, and you find language such as “Be the world’s most exceptional widget maker by leveraging shareholder value and innovative process controls while synergizing our human capital market place blah blah blah.” These visions sound like someone threw a corporate buzzword dictionary down a flight of stairs and the words that fell out got included in the statement. In the end, visions like these fail to emotionally connect with their audience and do not inspire action.
Visions should also be authentic. When groups ask me to help them craft their vision, I often refuse to use some sort of template. Visions should be unique, using language that is compelling to the intended audience. When the vision doesn’t match the organization in language, spirit, or direction, no one follows it. Or worse, they mock it (see the example above.)
Visions can be short, they can be long, they can use images, they can be metaphors, they can read like tag lines or they can read like poems. If they are authentic, clear, and compelling, they will be effective. There is no perfect model so be pragmatic—if they work, they are good.
Visions are not just for organizations. Individuals can create visions for their careers, their relationships, their families, or even their lives. It scares me to think of reaching the end of my life having failed to reach my vision of being a great dad and husband. I don’t want to waste the precious time I’ve been given, and I don’t want my kids complaining about me in therapy twenty years from now.
When we don’t have a vision of the future, we can feel powerless. When I work with individuals who do not have a vision for their career, they often express frustration that they are being passed over for opportunities or otherwise ignored. The reality is if we don’t have a vision for ourselves, someone else will have one for us, one that we may not want. That’s when the feeling of powerlessness kicks in.
When we commit to creating a future for ourselves and others, we get a sense of movement, more often than not. It allows us to take actions to carry us closer to the future we imagine. And that feels like empowerment.
So why doesn’t everyone have a vision for themselves? In a word, fear. Fear that we are not good enough, fear that we might fail, fear that we might succeed, fear that we are responsible, fear that we may miss out on something better, fear that we will be disappointed. We kill our own dreams before we even take the first step.
My advice for organizations and individuals:
- Having a vision is better than not having one.
- Be as clear and compelling as you can, but more importantly, be authentic.
- Talk about it. A lot.
- If you want the universe to tilt in your favor, get others involved. You’ll be more committed and so will they.
- The end result: you’ll start to create the future you imagine.
And lastly, remember that visions are not permanent. The world changes, and so should you. Your vision may have to change (just maybe not every day.) I plan on keeping my vision of being a great dad for a long time, at least until the kids disown me.