Is Vision Relevant Today?
In a word – YES! I’ve always said, leadership without vision is like trying to drive blind – it won’t end well. The best evidence of the importance of vision is what occurs in its absence– mediocrity, irrelevance, and ultimately, obsolescence.
If you accept my statements thus far as true, then my question is this: why do so many businesses struggle with creating a cohesive, aligned vision? The answer is regrettably obvious – many leaders are simply failing to lead.
Businesses don’t have vision issues – they have leadership issues. Simply holding a leadership title/position doesn’t make a person a leader. Let me be as blunt as I can… leadership decoupled from vision is nothing short of a farce. Vision isn’t just ethereal hocus-pocus; it’s the core manifestation of an organization’s values. Vision is what gives a company its forward leaning bias and constantly propels the enterprise beyond the status quo.
Vision statements, as implied in the construction of the phraseology itself, put forth a statement of envisioned future. This vision, if successful, must be underpinned by core ideology (values) and then expressed with clarity and conviction. A non-existent, ambiguous, or ideologically weak corporate vision is nothing short of a recipe for disaster… It would be akin to the proverbial ship without a rudder adrift without any direction or control.
It’s important to understand that vision statements are design-oriented. The vision is bigger picture and future-oriented. It is the vision that defines the end game, and the vision is what gives leadership the ability to create the strategic framework and the tactical road map to deliver a certainty of execution.
Okay, enough of the inspirational platitudes – let’s get practical…
Life is just plain easier when you can see what’s ahead of you. Some leaders clearly have poor vision – their most polished skill seems to be running into brick walls. Other leaders simply possess adequate vision – they avoid the obvious speed bumps, but fail to stand out from the crowd. Then there are those leaders who possess legendary vision – the rare few who can see around corners. What you may not realize is that everyone can learn to see around corners, and it’s not as hard as you think.
Great leaders understand the value of simplicity in all things, and nowhere does simplicity add more value than as it relates to vision. A vision not understood will be misunderstood, misdirected, or ignored. A vision that is values based and simple is easy to evangelize and operationalize. All a leader must do is focus on the right things.
Focus on the “why”, align the “who” with the “why”, and then allow the “who” to determine the appropriate course of action with regard to “what” and “how” – say that fast five times. All kidding aside, read my last statement a few times and let it sink in.
Don’t be in the business of business – be in the business of leadership. At its essence, leadership is the business of defining and articulating vision (why), and then aligning people (who) with said vision – these are the two key strategic elements of leadership (leadership + purpose + people = culture). The tactical elements of leadership (what and how) are best accomplished only after the “why” is clearly understood, and the “who” is soundly in place. A business that pursues a purpose-driven culture of leadership will simply outperform a business, which focuses solely on profit.
Much like an algebraic formula, there is a correct order of operation for leadership as well. I developed the following sequence more than 20 years ago, and it’s as relevant today as it was then:
“Values should underpin Vision, which dictates Mission, which determines Strategy, which surfaces Goals that frame Objectives, which in turn drives the Tactics that tell an organization what Resources, Infrastructure and Processes are needed to support a certainty of execution.” ~Mike Myatt, 1988
Leadership isn’t easy, but it also need not be overly complex – it’s bad leaders who complicate things with poor understanding and flawed delivery. Great leaders, on the other hand, are gifted at simplifying everything around them – they are focused on the right things, which allows their processes to fuel creativity and innovation not stifle them. It’s the efficiency and effectiveness of simplification that attracts and develops talent, and builds healthy cultures. When these constructs are in place, vision just becomes their natural extension serving as a corporate compass if you will.
Lastly, don’t get caught up in attempting to develop something catchy to be encapsulated within a piece of framed artwork that hangs on the wall yet is never put into practice. It is much more important that your vision be understood by company employees, and translated into the resultant authenticity of their actions.
Your customers don’t care what you put on paper, but they care immensely about whether or not a company’s vision is reflected in a fulfilled brand promise.
About Mike Myatt
Mike Myatt is widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, is the author of Leadership Matters, is a Forbes leadership columnist, and is the CEO at N2growth, one of the world’s top leadership development firms. Follow Mike on Twitter: @MikeMyatt