How To Illuminate A Vision Your Organization Will Believe In

What’s with “vision” these days? It seems most leaders would rather focus on action and execution. Have you noticed that the most popular articles and blog posts have numbers in them? 3 ways to…, 4 steps to…, 5 tips for…

In our research and conversations over the years, Ken Blanchard and I have heard from thousands of people organizations that their number one concern is lack of a shared vision. Yet less than 10% of the organizations we’ve visited are led by managers who have a clear sense of where they are trying to lead people.

Doug Conant, Chair of Avon and former CEO of Campbell Soup, recently told me, “People today are less interested in the vision and more interested in ‘how to.’ They are trying to get a sip of water from the fire hydrant of life, and it’s washing over them. They are trying to push everything away so they can do their work, and they’re looking for ‘how to’ answers like time management tricks.”

Overused And Diluted

Unfortunately, people don’t trust the idea of “vision” these days. It’s meaning has been co-opted by:

  • Vision statements that are no more than meaningless marketing messages.
  • Using vision as an excuse to lay people off.
  • Not connecting the vision to the day-to-day work.
  • Leaders who espouse vision but do not model it or who act in their own self-interest.

What’s Important Is Not Only What It Says, But Also How It’s Created And How It’s Lived.

What it says. Vision is a picture of a desirable future you intend to create and that illuminates your underlying purpose and values.

For a vision to be compelling and provide ongoing guidance, it must illuminate all three elements of a compelling vision: 1) purpose (or mission), 2) values, and 3) a clear picture of a desirable future.

Take the Apollo Moon Project for example. It is often mistakenly used as an example of a vision. When President Kennedy set the goal to put a man on the moon by 1969, the technology to accomplish it had not even been invented and an exciting decade of focused, Herculean efforts resulted in success. But what’s happened with NASA since? It has never recreated these spectacular accomplishments. Why? Because there was no clear purpose to guide decision-making going forward and answer the question “what’s next?”’

How it’s created. Typically a management team goes off and creates a vision they are very excited about and then reveals the vision to the rest of the organization. Later they are surprised when they run into huge issues during implementation and set the vision aside.

It rarely works to just announce what needs to be done and expect people to follow through. Taking the time to involve others in shaping the vision will save a lot of time down the road. Through involvement, people develop deeper understanding and commitment. Unless people really understand the “essence” of the vision, they may make decisions that pull in the wrong direction. And even when they do understand, if they don’t believe it’s important, they will not act strongly and consistently in ways to support it.

How it’s lived. This is one of the biggest ways leaders torpedo their own efforts. The moment you identify your vision, you must start behaving consistently with it. People watch what you do more carefully than they listen to what you say. People follow leaders by choice. Integrity is the bedrock of leadership, and if people don’t believe and trust you, the best you will get is compliance.

Jesse Lyn Stoner will be a guest on the TalentCulture #TChat Show on February 25th.

About the Author: Jesse Lyn Stoner is a consultant, former business executive, and co-author with Ken Blanchard of the bestseller Full Steam Ahead: Unleash the Power of Vision, which has been translated into 22 languages. Dr. Stoner is founder of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership, which hosts her award-winning leadership blog.

photo credit: IMG_5063a via photopin (license)

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