A Leadership Story: The Vision
Early in my career I was fortunate to have a boss who could articulate his perspective on how our products and services could revolutionize the way facilities across the country operated. He could see how the system we were working on could provide the information needed by commercial facilities to use electrical energy much more efficiently. He believed this system would be so essential to cost effective operation that it would be the reason that companies bought electrical distribution equipment from one supplier rather than another. More importantly, he saw an actual path to get to that point, not some futuristic — almost Sci-Fi — idea of what could be. My boss had Vision.
The group he led was not the first to talk about some vaguely computerized future world, but it was the first to be a commercial success. Over the span of 17 years, we went from barely generating revenue to securing over $300M in sales and revolutionizing the industry — in some ways that surprised even us. Looking back, it was the "Internet of Things" before it had a name or was cool.
Having a vision motivated us. It helped explain to customers — inside and outside our company — what we were doing. It allowed us to differentiate ourselves from competitors. It gave us a base to return to when choices were hard and things got fuzzy. I was lucky to have that boss who helped shape my career and my approach to business.
The ability to help others see the future they are working towards is critical, but far easier for some than others. It certainly helps to have an optimistic outlook, to be able to see the relationship between different ideas, and to be adaptive — think of Steve Jobs as an example that many are familiar with. But what if you feel that vision is not your strength. Maybe you feel that you are more of a 'doer' or a 'process person.' Can you just dismiss the 'vision thing' and move on?
No. Not if you want to be a successful leader.
If you are going to be successful as a leader you must engage your employees or crew. It turns out that there are two fundamentals for an employee to engage with their organization:
- They must see how their work relates to the goals and future of their business.
- They need to feel that their boss cares about them and their development.
Articulating the vision clearly is a part of helping your people see how their work relates to the goals and future of your business. You can see from my story of our electrical equipment industry how a shared vision helped us.
Can you share a vision even if it does not come as naturally as it did to my old boss or Steve Jobs? Yes, and you must.
Fortunately, there are tools to help even those who feel the most awkward about vision. Basic examples include the Vision/Traction Organizer that is a part of the Entrepreneur Operation System, or the One Page Strategic Plan that is part of the Scaling Up System. Those tools will help guide you through articulating basic elements like:
- Organizational Values
- Big Harry Audacious Goal or Distant Vision
- Core purpose and mission — do you know what you will say 'no' to
- Your sweet spot customer that you will focus on
- Successively more detailed goals as you move from mid-term (roughly three years out) to immediate (next 90 days)
If vision comes naturally to you, use these tools and run. If it does not, get some help. You may have people on your team with a personality that makes articulating a vision easier — if so, enlist their help. There are also many outside implementors or facilitators that can help you capture and articulate your vision.
However, remember that your team must understand and share your vision. While sharing what you have captured is very important, your team will only truly understand your vision when they see you living and acting on it.
My old boss had captured his vision and could present it using PowerPoint and other documents but, it was a motivating force because he lived it every day. We could see him refer to it in his decision making, and he insisted that we show how plans aligned the vision.
Living the vision made that business successful. It is a lesson for all organizations.
To learn more about Vision and its role in world-class leadership, please download our free whitepaper — The 5 Elements of Word-Class Leadership — How to Achieve Focus and Alignment for Greater Organizational Success.
Andy Foerster brings the heart of a teacher and 40 years of leadership experience — at all levels — to help leaders and companies move to the next level. He equips individuals with the skills and tools needed to become more effective leaders, and he guides organizations to develop better leadership cultures. He passionately believes that everyone can become a better leader.