Leadership Barometer 60 Creating a Brilliant Vision

July 31, 2020

Without a well-defined vision, the organization has no true direction. It is like a ship without a rudder, sailing around at the mercy of the wind, hoping to find a safe port with little chance of reaching one. Creating vision is absolutely essential for any group because it gives a common direction and provides a focus for energy.

Not all vision statements are helpful. Some are relegated to plaques on the wall and ignored. This is a tragedy because an uninspiring vision breeds apathy and is worse than no vision at all. If people point to the vision statement on the wall and say, “that is where we are supposed to be going but they don’t act that way,” you are in trouble.

Joel Barker made video and wrote a book titled “The Power of Vision.” I recommend it to all leaders who wish to generate a great vision. He presents four conditions necessary to create a powerful vision. According to Barker:

Good visions are:

1. Initiated by leaders – vision starts at the top.
2. Shared and supported by all – vision is supported by the “vision community.”
3. Comprehensive and detailed – vision includes how, when, why, and what, so that everyone can see their part.
4. Positive and inspiring – vision has “reach” and is worth the effort.

If you close your eyes and envision the ideal future state for yourself and your area, what does it look like? This is a first glimpse at your vision for the organization.

If you are not in a leadership position, your vision will be just for yourself. It is a powerful statement of your goals boiled down into a simple focused phrase. It should be inspiring enough to elicit your best, sustained efforts.

If you are in a leadership position, spend some quality time with your team, identifying possible vision statements and weeding out all but one. Work on it with your key leaders.

Get input from all stakeholders. It is critical for each person in the organization to make a connection with the vision: to own it. They must see themselves as partners in order to make it a sustainable reality.

This is not a 15-minute exercise. Some groups spend months working on developing a good vision statement. The process can get convoluted and burdensome if not handled correctly.

If you are adept at facilitating group discussions, you may conduct this yourself. If not, a professional facilitator would be worth the investment.

As the leader, even if you feel qualified to lead the discussion, you still may want to hire an outside person so you can become one of the people developing this material. The danger if you lead the discussion is that you could influence it too heavily.

In general, if a leader brings in a consultant to facilitate a discussion or to assist with a particular instrument or skill set, there is usually a high value.

If the consultant is brought in to get into the trenches and do the dirty work of leadership, it is often a disaster because the consultant can undermine the leader.

The leader calls in a consultant and says, “Things are a mess around here and I’m under a lot of pressure. Performance is horrible recently and morale is way down.

I haven’t got time to fix the problem because I am overloaded just trying to run the business, and I have to attend all these management meetings. I need you to assess what is wrong and recommend a program to get back on track. If my team buys into your recommendations, we will let you handle the program.”

This leader probably has lost the ability to lead the organization effectively. As the consultant mucks around trying to understand problems, significant negative energy is unearthed but the consultant doesn’t have the authority to fix these issues.

Meanwhile, the leader is “busy running the business,” and being micro-managed by superiors. Morale and performance go down even further until, finally, the leader is simply forced out.

This is why it is important for the leader to be the driving force in creating a vision for the organization. It cannot be delegated to a consultant or even a high-ranking lieutenant. The leader is responsible for making sure the vision statement is clear, compelling, memorable, actionable, and real.

Key ideas for developing a good vision statement:

Most importantly, make sure your vision tells everyone where the organization is going. A nice sounding phrase that doesn’t have pull makes a poor vision. For a football team “We will be number one in the league within 3 years” is a better vision than “We will improve our position in the rankings every year until we become the top team in the league.”

Avoid grandiose sweeping statements that are too broad. “We will become the best in the world at computer technology” would be too general and vast for a good vision statement. A better example might be “Our superior microchips will gain 90% market share with computer manufacturers in 5 years.”

Make sure people can connect their everyday activities to the vision. “Every interface is a chance to bestow great customer service” would allow everyone to view daily activities with customer service getting top billing.

Keep it short and powerful. Avoid long lists of items that sound good but don’t create a picture. For example, being “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent” may be a good motto for the Boy Scouts, but it would make a terrible vision statement.

Select colorful words that inspire rather than describe. “Our greeting cards melt the heart and transform the soul” would be superior to “Our greeting cards are better because they make people feel great.”

Keep it short. The fewer words the better. “Absolutely, positively overnight” is better than “Our packages are guaranteed to arrive by the next day or your money back.”

Use special words to emphasize your most significant point. “We will never, ever, run out of stock” is better than “We promise to keep our customers’ needs met by always having stock on hand.”

Don’t try to be abstract or cute in order to grab attention. “We have the softest software in the nation” might be a slogan helpful on Madison Avenue, but it makes a lousy vision. Instead try “Software delivered on time, every time!”

The initial thoughts often contain the seeds of the eventual finished product. Craft these thoughts into words and images. Sometimes a picture or logo can be enough to communicate a vision, like the Rock of Gibraltar for Prudential Insurance.

Communicate the organization’s values and vision to everyone in it. Do this well and often, as it forms the basis of everything to come. Frequently demonstrate your alignment with the vision by naturally working it into conversations.
You might say, “Well, let’s call the customer and tell them about this situation. After all, our vision is to put the customer first.”

James Kouzes and Barry Posner state in “The Leadership Challenge”:

“In some ways, leaders live their lives backwards. They see pictures in their minds’ eyes of what the results will look like even before they have started their projects, much as an architect draws a blueprint or an engineer builds a model. Their clear image of the future pulls them forward.”

Some leaders are so busy they don’t want to spend time doing this kind of work. That is a huge mistake. This activity cannot be delegated, and it is actually the most important thing the leader should be doing while restarting an enterprise.

Being too preoccupied with the business to develop a clear vision shows the leader does not understand the power of vision.

As a leader, you need to make sure people understand your passion for the vision. Do this with both words and actions. Let people know you put your whole self behind the words.

Once when we were trying to instill a vision of significantly improved product quality, one of our parts failed to fit into our customer’s equipment. They complained and we “fixed” the problem. Everyone pledged it would never happen again, but a similar problem recurred a couple years later because everyone did not follow the “fix.” Somehow, people needed to get past the rhetoric about improving quality and realize a permanent improvement was required.

I wrote my resignation from the company without a date and put a copy in my desk drawer. I announced that the resignation would be pulled out, signed, dated and submitted the next time a part of ours failed to work in customer equipment. I told every group about the letter and even showed it to some people. Although not explicitly stated, most people extrapolated if the boss was to lose his job over poor quality, others would be similarly affected. We never had that kind of problem again. The vision sank in and registered.

Look at the policies and procedures of your organization and test them against the new vision. Often you will need to modify them to be consistent. Ignoring this step will result in confusion and lack of commitment to the vision.

Warren Bennis writes:

“The only way a leader is going to translate vision into reality – an ability that is the essence of leadership – is to anchor and implement and execute that vision through a variety of policies, practices, procedures, and systems that will bring in people and empower them to implement the vision.”


The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Leaders: Get Off Your Butts

August 8, 2010

The people in your organization who are the best teachers of leadership are not the development staff or the outside consultants. While there is a vital role for trainers and consultants, I believe it is the leaders themselves who are in the best position to train the next generation of leaders. Too often they sit in musty budget meetings or downsizing briefings all day and never get the chance to actually pick up a marker and share their passion for leadership with their employees. What a tragedy! I believe they are abdicating their responsibility, not only to their organization, but to the broader society as well.

There are many exceptions to this observation, and these leaders should be honored for their giving spirit and their foresight. They have understood the opportunity and gotten off their butt to get out and teach rather than just perform the leadership function all day, every day, as if playing a Whack-a-mole game. I will mention just three notable exceptions here for brevity, but there should be hundreds of thousands of exceptions like this, because the simple logic is so compelling.

Jack Welch got the idea a couple decades ago and built his Leadership University at Croton on Hudson. Jack was known to say that the times he felt best about his job were when he was actually in the classroom (called The Pit) teaching the next generation of GE executives how to lead. He devoted much time and energy to this effort, and it paid off huge rewards not only for the corporation but also for a whole generation of outstanding leaders who were fortunate enough to participate at GE.

Ed Betof has written a book titled “Leaders as Teachers,” in which he describes the journey to this model of excellence in the Becton Dickinson Company, a manufacturer of medical supplies and syringes. Ed was the CLO of BD working under the direction of CEO Ed Ludwig, who understood the value of having the top brass actually doing the instruction instead of relying exclusively on training professionals. For a great video describing their program you can navigate to http://www.corpu.com/leadersasteachers/

Probably the most famous and long term practitioner of the notion of having executives roll up their sleeves is Warren Bennis, who has been teaching leadership for over 60 years. As a leader himself for much of that span, Warren spent a good chunk of his time actually facilitating classes on leadership. He is currently still teaching and probably will until he drops. He noted: “The single most important thing I’ve done at USC over the past 15 years is to co-create and co-teach a course on leadership with Steve Sample (the current President of USC).”

So, if you are a highly paid executive working crazy hours doing the business of business, I humbly suggest you get off your butt and walk down the hall to where they are conducting the leadership classes for your upcoming generations of executives. Roll up your sleeves, and start sharing your philosophy of leadership. The first thing that will happen is that you will shock the suspenders off everyone in the room. Second, you will begin to realize this is a key part of your function as a leader. Third, you will come to really enjoy this activity as the high point in your day or week. You will see the immense benefits and willingly carve out time on your calendar in the future. Finally, after doing this for a while, not only will the profitability of your organization be substantially improved, but the morale of your executives will be greatly enhanced.