As Mark Twain once remarked about the weather, there’s a lot of talk about vision, but very few managers really do anything about it. Visioning is sometimes an innate natural skill just like leadership sometimes is. And the moon sometimes blocks out the sun — but none occur very often. Most people have had to consciously and with great effort continually work to strengthen their visioning. Visionary leaders are seldom born that way (how many of those birth announcements have you seen lately?). Nor are they necessarily charismatic. They have had to work at making visioning habitual.
Here are a few pathways and pitfalls to organizational visioning:
- You and your team need to picture and describe your preferred future as vividly as possible. One approach is to imagine it’s five years from today and you’re being interviewed by Fortune magazine, a leading newspaper, or an industry journalist on the phenomenal success your company or team has had. Describe the results you’ve achieved and perhaps the approach you’ve used. Speak in the present tense as if it’s all happening around you right now.
- Too many managers try to delegate “the vision thing” to a committee. It doesn’t work. If you’re a senior manager, caring for the culture and providing organization focus isn’t just part of your job, it is your job.
- Unless you’re an exceptionally clear and inspiring writer, be very careful about drafting a “vision statement” and using that as your communications centerpiece. Visions are about feelings, beliefs, emotions, and pictures. It’s very hard to bring those across on paper (especially if the statement is developed by a committee). Vision ideas or summaries can, and should, be committed to paper, and widely circulated — but as a “leave behind,” follow-up, or reminder. Visions are the most compelling when they are delivered in person by a leader who’s an effective communicator. Powerful personal communication skills and energizing leadership are inseparable. Learn how to use “impassioned logic” by adding metaphors, stories, models, or examples to help everyone “see the big picture” and rouse their emotions to make it happen.
- Your team or organization needs a shared vision, not something that only a few people own. You need to make everyone a “spiritual stakeholder.” That’s usually a cascading process, but it can start in any part of an organization. Ideally, the senior management team defines the broad parameters of what business you’re in and which direction you’re heading. They can prepare a rough vision for input and refinement or leave things wide open for the rest of the organization to fill in.
- Invoke pride, stretch everyone’s thinking, and stir the will-to-win emotions. Shoot to shake up the industry or change the rules of the game. Become the fastest, strongest, highest quality, most innovative, or best at something.
Vision is the critical focal point and beginning of high performance. But a vision alone won’t make it happen. Unless the hard work of striving, building, and improving follows, even the most vibrant vision will remain only a dream.