I have marveled time and again how often people, while driving, will come up behind me, pressing me to go faster, and when I look ahead it is clear we are not going to make it through the traffic light. Often these people will become frustrated or even aggressive if I do not speed up or move over. And then, a moment later, I pull up next to them at the red light I saw coming.
The big question is why? Why would someone speed towards a light only to have to stop? Why would a person become aggressive in this situation?
The answer is a simple one:
These people, whoever they are, are acting in the now, not considering what is ahead – even just 50 metres down the road.
Benjamin Franklin said it this way: “All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse.”
The more alarming consideration or implication is that if they are unable to look down the literal road on which they are driving, how many are able to look down the roads of their lives, their divisions, or their organisations?
The answer of vision may be a simple one, and many of you might agree that this is the missing link, but do we really understand the immense effect having, or not having, a vision brings with it?
Let us consider a few points that help us see and understand what a vision enables one to do:
- Energy and Substance
Science tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred. If any of you remember your science classes, you might remember doing experiments where something that seemed inanimate and solid, when introduced to the right substance, became alive as it changed, burned or melted. This additional substance, or catalyst, assisted the original material to change its behaviour and do something very different to what it was doing without it. The change we witness is the change from Potential energy into Kinetic (action) energy.
The introduction of a well thought out, well articulated vision will always be a catalyst changing potential and hidden energy into action and activity.
“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.” Andrew Carnegie, self made millionaire and philanthropist.
- Direction and Purpose
I hope we all know or remember the conversation shared by the grinning Cheshire cat and Alice in the book and film Alice in Wonderland? While wandering lost in the woods, Alice is met by this strange character. She takes the opportunity to ask for directions. The cat responds by asking her where she wants to go. “I don’t much care where –” replies Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” says the Cat. “– so long as I get somewhere,” Alice adds as an explanation. “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” says the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
How many of us are walking with no purpose or direction? A vision changes all of this. If our response to the cat is the same as Alice’s, then we need to sit down and do a serious stock take of our life and potential future.
More than this though, and we’re heard this saying many times before, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” In fact, The Roman Empire is said to have existed, from its founding until its ultimate demise, for approximately 2,214 years. But for its first 500 years, Rome was unstable and had no real power. It was only when there was a unified ideology and vision for what Rome could be and do that she eventually became the empire we read about today.
Once this vision was in place, steps were taken every day to achieve it – some large and dramatic, some small and seemingly unnoticed.
“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.” Alvin Toffler, writer and futurist.
- Measureable Execution
Thomas Edison said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
Returning to the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire cat, the final lines added by the cat hold additional value: “Oh, you’re sure to do that, [get somewhere]” says the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
I don’t know about you, but I am not a willing participant in any run or race where I don’t know where I’m going or for how long I will need to go. In order to achieve the very best performance in a race, athletes, while training, will set themselves milestones relating to the distances required in the race. By doing this, they can measure their fitness and condition against what will be required of them in their chosen event. Knowing this, they can adjust or tweak their training regime to assist their performance.
With a goal in mind, we are able to spend our time and energy knowing we are going somewhere. And if that goal or vision is well defined and constructed, we are then able to further measure our performance, which will lead to added effort and output.
Leaders need a vision
Leaders need a vision just as much as those he or she is leading need one. Leading someone implies a destination, and if you have no vision or goal, are you really leading anyone?
Truly extraordinary leaders will always strive to create a clear vision in the mind of their followers because they understand what a vision does to and for the people. Leaders are really in the business of leveraging powerful vision for the purposes of utilising the energy within individuals to execute in a particular, potentially predefined, direction, with the aim of achieving a goal.
Goals and vision are not always the same, and are often communicated very differently.
Followers need to see themselves in the vision
All this talk of vision is useless unless there is buy in into that vision from others. Without buy in, a vision remains intangible and powerless. One might ask how one makes a distant goal tangible?
Herein lays one of the secrets of extraordinary leaders throughout history.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Extraordinary leaders help their followers hear, see, touch, taste and smell their futures. This is a wonderful measure of the extent to which we communicate goals and visions as leaders.
I began this article discussing traffic lights and driver behaviour. I described a phenomenon experienced by all of us every day. Perhaps in many cases we are these drivers?
Let us now decide to raise our eyes and look a little further down the road. Let’s consider more carefully the visions we have for our own futures, and how they affect what we say and do. And then the let us consider the visions we have for our divisions and organisations, and how these visions impact what we do today.
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