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Start With the Vision

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I’ve noticed lately that a few business writers have implied that “Visioning” might be a waste of time. One went so far as to compare a Corporate Vision Statement to a “cute slogan—like a bumper sticker.” 

Well, here’s my take on that.

In my work as a consultant for dozens of successful organizations over the past 30 years, I’ve concluded that a compelling Vision of the future—a Vision of greatness, of what “could be”—is the prime mover in virtually all the best companies.

At its simplest, a Vision describes a preferred reality.

It reminds us that we are not stuck with the present, and that we can join forces with our employees and colleagues to “invent” a better future for ourselves, our company and our community. “A vision foretells what may be ours,” wrote Katherine Logan. “It is an invitation to do something better, higher and more satisfying.”

Grappling with what is “better, higher and more satisfying” for your own department or company can be hard work. And yet the final Vision statement itself can usually be expressed in the simplest terms.

“All men are created equal,” is a five-word Vision statement articulated by our founding fathers, but those five little words rocked the world.

“Put a man on the moon in this decade,” is a nine-word Vision statement articulated by John F. Kennedy. But those nine little words inspired the worldwide scientific community to achieve what was previously deemed impossible.

“A computer on every desk,” was the basic Vision pursued by both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in the Sixties and Seventies. But that simple little vision statement proved to be a lot more powerful than just a “cute little slogan or bumper sticker.”

“Vision grabs,” wrote Warren Bennis in his iconic book, Leaders. “First it grabs the leader. Then it becomes the leader’s job to translate the Vision into a practical plan of action and get everyone in the organization onboard.” So the next time you hear someone disparaging the value of the Visioning process, ask yourself this question: “What exactly is the role of today’s leader?”

Your role is not to know everything.

Your role is not to do everything. Your role is not to run around motivating or threatening everyone. From where I sit, the role of today’s leader is to mobilize everyone on your team or in your organization around a compelling Vision of the future. And you can’t possibly do that unless you first take the time to articulate that Vision, and make it public. Start with the Vision, and then succeed with the plan.

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