"Vision. It reaches beyond the thing that is,into the conception of what can be. Imagination gives you the picture. Vision gives you the impulse to make the picture your own." Robert Collier
No concept in Leadership has been more popular in recent decades than Vision. Even though it is not new, Vision became an essential attribute for most successful organisations and individuals, being strongly linked with both positive perception and goodwill, as well as measurable financial success.
This ability to construct and articulate an inspiring image of the future is what many consider to be the differentiator between a great leader and a good manager. To serve its purpose, this picture must be believable, attractive and desirable to everybody involved in pursuing it. A great leader should have the ability to visualize both the aspirations and hopes of a better tomorrow and the challenges along the way. To be successful, the vision needs to be communicated so clearly that everyone is able to grasp it and picture themselves living that future. Vision also needs to be achievable and believable, stretching, compelling, and rewarding.
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
(quote from “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll)
Many successful individuals and organisations don’t start with a ‘Vision’. They begin with a set of strong personal core values, a relentless drive for change, and find ways of converting all these into forward-moving actions. However, every leader is supposed to model the correct behaviour for the organisation and create the standards of quality and growth.
But what is Vision? Put it simply, vision is a combination of three basic elements:
- the fundamental reason for the existence of the organisation or individual, beyond just making money and earning a living (often called the Mission)
- the core values that are fulfilled by achieving this mission
- the daring, bold, but ultimately realistic aspirations for the future
A vision is a direction — an attractive and attainable picture of the future. It is important that every individual, group and organization have one that they can articulate. As a leader, if you don't know where you are going, you are irrelevant to your followers. With a vision you can inspire and lift individuals and groups to new heights—an important function of any leader.
However, a vision should not be an end but a means. It should provide the path by which a purpose or result will be achieved. Leaders need to bring their vision to life. Put it in the heart and not just the mind. Encourage people to identify with it at least in their imagination. People crave for meaning and purpose in their work. The leader’s job is to generate that meaning. As a leader you must live and breathe the vision and communicate it in everything you say and do. The more you identify with the vision, the clearer it will become and the more deeply you can value it.
To make a real difference, a vision must have meaning for everybody involved and it has to be shared. It can come from various sources; it is not only the duty or the privilege of the leader. Ideally, it should be the result of the common efforts of everybody involved in putting it into practice, because this will link them at a personal level to this vision.
Another characteristic of a true vision is that it takes into account a much broader picture than the immediate goals. A classic example of a great visionary is Walt Disney. Talking about Disneyland, he said: “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world”, And he defined its’ purpose as “a family park where parents and children could have fun - together". By analysing this (and other) vision statement(s), we observe that they clearly answer some fundamental questions:
- What is the purpose (provide fun)
- Who will benefit (parents and children)
- How they plan to do it (by exploiting the imagination)
However, this vision is not limited in time (on the contrary), and is not going into details about how they plan to do it (not because he didn’t know, but probably because he understood that this changes with the times).
Warren Bennis considers that “To communicate a vision, you need more than words, speeches, memos, and laminated plaques. You need to live a vision, day in, day out, embodying it and empowering every other person to execute that vision in everything he or she does, anchoring it in realities, so that it becomes a template for decision making. Actions do speak louder than words”.