We’ve spent the last couple weeks talking about the power of vision, both as leaders in a professional environment and as individuals. It’s easy to look at someone like Elon Musk who harbors vivid images of cleanly-fueled cars and affordable space travel and see how such vision drives his daily actions. But what about you and me? For the rest of us trying to figure out where we are in life, and more importantly, where we want to go—how do you develop such a lasting picture in your mind that has the same staying power? Vision is as important at work as it is at home and you must devote real energy to its creation and maintenance. So that’s what we’re going to talk about all month—VISION.
What is “vision”? Does it sound more like something an HR focus group needs to worry about? I’d argue that if you’re making that assumption, it’s because you’ve only been exposed to corporate vision statements that often don’t have much weight behind them—assuming you even know what your company’s is. These statements have all the potential in the world, but without regular communication and much needed context, that potential is lost on you. Your organization probably has a vision statement; you may even know what it is … but could you articulate what role you play in its achievement? If the answer is no, who could blame you for believing such a thing irrelevant to your life? With everything else at home and at work to worry about, the last thing anyone needs is more time spent on a vision statement. But the reality is that these disconnects don’t prove a vision’s lack of utility, only a leader’s inability to translate that vision into meaning that drives team members forward. No matter where you are in the hierarchy, vision should be foremost in your mind—the end state you see for the impact you will have on the world around you. What should you look for in a vision? Here are three rules to consider when crafting a vision or trying to figure out if the one you’ve been provided is viable.
Rule #1: Visions are aspirational. Some would argue there’s no value in goals or objectives if they aren’t “realistic” or “relevant” (if you’ve never heard of the ‘SMART’ goal-setting model, read more here). When developing goals, you’re supposed to ask practical questions—is this the right time, am I qualified to achieve this, does this goal fit in with the others? While I am a believer in realism when we talk about day-to-day actions and incremental steps toward a vision of the future, I have also come to believe strongly that a lasting vision cannot merely be ‘realistic’. It must be aspirational … other-worldly … something that would be difficult (if not impossible) to achieve without effort. Your vision represents the best case in your mind’s eye, what the new project or the customer’s experience or your life would look like if everything went perfectly. What does the customer’s satisfaction, your team’s loyalty, or your happiness look like? “Receives the product on time”, “we make next quarter’s revenue target”, or “I get a job that pays for this house” … none of those can be enough. They will not be enough. All three might be worthy objectives that can, themselves, be ‘realistic’ to the moment, but none will sustain and motivate the kind of progressive effort necessary for continual improvement and, most critically, personal and professional growth.
Rule #2: Visions are shared. Visions of the future are meaningless … even the personal ones … if they are not shared. For the team at work, it doesn’t help anyone if only the person in charge knows the vision and can see it for themselves. In this case, managers drive their people toward ideals those same team members can’t internalize for themselves, which leads to those same, valuable employees staying with the job simply for the paycheck or benefits. Even if you retain some of them over the long-term, you’ll watch as their motivation drops and their engagement tempers.
Rule #3: Visions are developed. Why do corporate vision statements seem to lose momentum or fail to engage the workforce long-term? They’re not vivid, rich in detail, or easily embodied by the team that’s in place to achieve it. I’m not saying your vision should be page after page of exposition or analysis; one phrase or sentence should be enough to inspire your group. What is often missing is the leader’s description of what that vision looks like in real life. Beyond the vision statement, a lasting vision is an image—or series of images—that represents the ultimate ‘win’. But you can’t conjure it once and call it a day, confident that will be enough to move forward. The vision must be examined, turned over, and filled in. It must be rendered in full color, ready to feed an example for the team when they need a better idea of why they’re doing what they’re doing in the first place. Emphasizing such fidelity in a vision does two things: 1) it makes the aspirational, far-off ideal feel more attainable and therefore enables goal-setting in the near-term and builds motivation; and 2) it enables you as a leader to share the vision with your team—friends, family, coworkers. The more detail they can ‘see’ and ‘feel’, the more likely they can internalize the imagery and take ownership of their own role in its achievement.
So what does all this matter? Why spend the time and energy crafting an aspirational vision, rendered in full color, that you then have to share with the world around you? Because with everything that’s going on around you, distracting you, pulling you in multiple directions … a lasting vision provides a meaningful end for which to strive. An end that drives the daily effort necessary to always be improving, growing, and developing into individuals and organizations that can offer much more to the world around them.
Next week, this month’s series on vision continues with a look at New Year’s resolutions … why we fail at seeing them through and how applying the three rules of vision can enable you to achieve something great in the coming year …