The Key to Visions That Work
The Empty Carriage: A Leadership Lesson

How long should your vision statement be?

The answer: Long enough.

Long enough to evoke a noble sense of purpose, provide a call to action, and describe a clear picture of your destination.

These four vision statements work because they condense a lot of information into an inspiring statement that is quickly understood by most people. If you were not familiar with the context, it would require a much longer statement to explain them.

xxxxxxxxA computer on every desk. ~Steve Jobs

xxxxxxxxA computer on every desk in every home running Microsoft software. ~Bill Gates

xxxxxxxxProduce an affordable automobile. ~Henry Ford

xxxxxxxxOne team, one country. ~Nelson Mandela

HOWEVER…most effective vision statements are NOT short statements.

Consider Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” statement, Thomas Jefferson’s vision for the United States or Louis Gertsner, Jr’s vision to bring IBM back to it’s roots as a provider of integrated solutions. Most effective vision statements cannot be adequately conveyed in a few sweeping sentences.

A one-liner can be helpful as it provides a rally call that reminds us of the full message. However, it becomes problematic if you think your vision must be a one-liner.

When a one-liner doesn’t come easily, people often come up with something that amounts to little more than a marketing slogan – all fluff and no substance.

Here are some examples of one-liners that don’t work.

“To be the provider of choice.”

On an internet search, I found 20 unrelated companies that listed this as their mission.

“To become the most competitive enterprise in the world by being number one or number two in every business in which we compete.” ~Jack Welch.

A statement like this creates a danger of dilution as it provides no guidelines. Would they acquire any viable business that is number one or two? Drycleaning? School buses? Pet grooming? Jack Welch’s effectiveness with GE was not due to this particular sentence.

“One Vision. Mission. Passion. The best possible care.” ~St. Francis Hospital

I noticed this statement hanging as a huge sign as I walked through the airport this week. I was astounded – “The best possible care.”  Isn’t that the point of all hospitals? In effect, the sign is saying “our vision is to do our job exceptionally well.” It’s hard to get too excited about a statement like that. A mobilizing statement dares you to be more than mediocre. How much more powerful it would be if their statement was something like: “The best possible care for everyone who enters our doors, regardless of their circumstances.”

What makes a vision statement work?

What all great vision statements have in common is they provide an answer these three questions, either directly or indirectly.

1) Destination: Where are we going?

2) Purpose: Why do we exist? What greater good do we serve?

3) Values: What principles guide our decisions and actions on our journey?

If your one-liner conveys the answer to these questions, that’s great. If not, don’t worry if your statement is longer.

Remember, what’s important is what your vision statement communicates, not how it looks.

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