You Can’t Lead without a Vision

CREATE A CLEAR IMAGE

Colin Powell said, “Always focus on the front windshield and not on the rear-view mirror.”

As a leader, if you’re not looking forward, you are not moving in the right direction. Recently I asked a group of leaders to share their visions of the future for their work group. Nine out of ten leaders described the their group’s current activities. They said things like, “My vision is for our group to deliver the best quality service,” and “I envision that we will provide each visitor a warm welcome, a prompt response, and show genuine concern.” My response? That’s not a vision! It’s a description of your expectations and it’s probably what your team is doing now. A vision doesn’t describe the road. It describes the destination.

It’s easy to stay focused on the now. As a manager, each day you are sucked into the weeds of your work, thinking about the crisis of the day. In the process it’s easy to lose sight of, or never even define, the ultimate destination. Where are you taking your work group? How will you know when you’ve arrived? What is the passion that drives your work every day? Without a vision that is future-focused, exciting, and challenging, you and your team will arrive each day, do the work that’s in front of you, and go home. You are basically driving a parked car.

Kouzes and Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, found exemplary leaders inspire a shared vision. They envision what the destination will look like and they inspire others to jump on the bus to join them on the journey. Vision is a clear view of the destination, one that is uplifting and hopeful. Vision drives your team to look beyond themselves and to focus on an external purpose. According to the authors, the best visions:

·         Describe the ideal. It’s not about the way you are now, or how you will be in a week or a month. It’s a definition of the way you and your team are going to be when the world is perfect, when you’ve stretched beyond your capabilities, when you are achieving the ultimate.

·         Are unique. Your vision describes how your group is different from others within the organization and from others who do similar work to yours. The uniqueness of the vision attracts top performers who want to be part of something great. Your unique vision keeps people engaged and develops a sense of pride to be part of something different.

·         Include vivid imagery. Your vision should create a mental picture of the future state. The more you express your vision with pictures, metaphors, and stories, the clearer the future becomes for others. What will it be like when your vision is achieved? How will it feel? What will others say when you get there?

·         Are future-oriented. One of the challenges of sharing your vision is to project what it will be like in the future. My recent group of leaders expected high quality work and a positive approach to customers, but few of their visions were actually about how the future would be different than today. A vision is not about now or even this year. It’s about the state you wish for your team that is yet to come.

·         Appeal to a common cause. A powerful vision cannot be for your benefit alone. It will only be an effective in driving performance when it reflects what’s good for the larger interest. If Steve Jobs had a vision to make a lot of money for Apple, it wouldn’t have been as compelling as having a vision to put a computer in the hands of every person. His vision was driven by a desire for something larger than himself and larger than the company. It became a rallying cry for innovation and risk taking throughout the organization.

Carmine Gallo, a blogger for Forbes said, “Passion fuels the rocket; vision directs the rocket to its ultimate destination.” You can drive team performance by focusing on what you are passionate about and developing a vision that will provide the momentum to drive your team to a new and exciting future.

My advice to leaders who try to pass off boring, run of the mill expectations as visions? Dream a little. Once you have a clear and compelling picture of what your team could be, you will be able to inspire others as well.

 

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