Think of all the changes happening rapidly. Technology changes. Demographic changes. Tastes change. Change engulfs us.
Inside organizations, people gather to state their vision in eloquent terms. It usually is some simple statement to guide strategy and goals forward. However, as organizations stumble, the value of vision falters. Vision didn’t keep Kodak on the right path; it didn’t save Montgomery Ward. Pick an organization that has disappeared or nearly evaporated from the competitive landscape and most likely they had a vision statement.
Are Vision Statements Still Valuable?
In many ways, vision statements are not valuable. They become just vacant words, no real action or buy-in supporting them. Or, they become words of why not to change given new conditions. Visions become a beacon of stubbornness and signs of failure.
Is a Vision a Statement?
Maybe this is where vision falls down. Visions become some words stitched together in which a group of people rally behind them as quickly as they forget the lofty words. Vision statements become an exercise of the over-educated MBAs from some university, some would claim. Vision may need to be more than a statement as it seems to have become just hollow words in many cases.
Is Vision Just Realized in Hindsight?
We read biographies of various leaders and some vision is assigned to them. Was a real vision really present during the time of the hard work, the struggles, and the achievement? Or, was it just a way to wrap the story up in a neatly tied bow for all to remember? Vision is always clear in hindsight, but it may not always be present at the time the good work is being done. It may be just good people doing the best they can with all that they have and then achieving something amazing when the dust clears.
Do Clarity and Philosophy Replace Vision?
Clarity of direction is essential in leadership. Underneath our activities and steps need to be a purpose and a direction. It is about moving from Point A to Point B and knowing why it is important to move forward and why we cannot stay where we are. In the mix, when shifts happen, we need to enhance our awareness and intensify our efforts to understand what the change may have up its sleeve and know when we need to move to Point C instead.
Clarity may be more important than vision. Just as an annual eye exam may improve our vision, we need to examine our direction and determine if a new lens will deliver greater clarity of the path we need to take and engage a team in our steps forward.
Equally important to clarity is our philosophy on how we are going to lead and how we are going to engage others. Our philosophy produces a way of leading and living and serves as our guide forward when times are good, bad, or changing. Having a strong philosophy on how to lead may be more vital than having a vision of where to go.
A mix of clarity and philosophy may produce longer-term results than vision. This may be how Millennial leaders can lead in a better way, learning from the past and replacing the role vision with the right mix of clarity and philosophy.
What are your thoughts on vision? Has vision lost its way?
Join the Conversation
Is Vision Still Valid? Maybe not.
Great post, Jon. Here’s my 2c – I think vision is totally valid, but the way it’s used is all wrong, in many cases. I do coaching around vision and always see vision as much more than words – it’s a state, something that becomes, is created.
When I coach around vision I always challenge people to take a walk up the mountain and tell me what they see (not sure on your rule on shameless self promotion, so please delete if I’ve contravened it but it is relevant) – which I explained in a blog post here – http://www.58twelve.com/unpacking-vision-take-me-to-the-promised-land/ and in my (free) eBook which you can download here – http://www.58twelve.com/dare-to-dream.
I hold that vision is vital, and everything else – clarity, focus, grit – flow from it. But only if it really is vision rather than empty words.
So, yes, vision has it’s place, very much so, but only if it really is vision, if that makes sense, otherwise it’s just words.
Interesting Article. Would not get into Definition Debate, but what is vision if not Clarity of Direction & Philosophy( which boils down to clarity of thought).
A valid point, Gurmeet. I would argue it is more action-oriented. Clarity of actions to take is an active idea, whereas vision has been burdened with getting the words right rather than how to move it forward. If we have the clarity of actions combined with a solid philosophy on how we are going to lead, there should be more meaningful actions forward and an accountability against passivity. Hope that helps. Thanks for asking! Jon
Is “tradition” (read baby boomer ethos) demanding the stale vision statements that are written to justify or is there a true burning desire inside a leader to put a spotlight on a billboard called Vision! Either way, the “footprint based on a philosophy” will make an indelible mark on the climb to clarity, long before vision catches up…great fire starter Jon!
It may be a generational thing, Stephen. Philosophy will have more impact, I believe, along with strong clarity of action. I believe there is a shift underway and it will produce good progress ahead. Thanks for your comments and insights! Jon
On the basis of of the Corporate Governance focused dialogues I have with enterprises, I see little evidence of visions being linked robustly to actions. More and more I ask questions focused on “Ambition” rather than “Vision”. That said, a few months ago I did see one good Mission – Vision – Core Values – Strategic Themes – Goals – Objectives – Initiatives – Measures – Targets – Measures Pyramid that was actually being used and being evolved.
Thanks for your insights. It is interesting on your reference to “ambition” vs. “vision.” It would be interesting to learn more about that distinction and how it has made a difference. I agree that vision and actions need to be tightly linked so inaction doesn’t become the default way. Grateful for your insights and look forward to learning more. Thanks!
Personally I find ambition more personal than vision. For as long as I can remember I have personally had ambition(s) but I cannot claim to have a vision. Turning to enterprises I should acknowledge that my thinking has been influenced by the Tom Peters Future Shape of the WInner thinking (http://wp.me/P3ep12-nP) where enterprise ambition is considered as an overarching sense of cause with which talented people can connect instinctively i.e. people / talent is an intrinsic part of articulating the ambition. I find a conversation linking enterprise ambition to individual ambition more natural and less of a stretch than exploring linkages between visions (that are in my experience too often too generic) and individual goals.
Jon – It was eye opening to think about why we go to the eye doctor in relation to why we need to refresh, recalibrate and change our vision.
Year ago, I led vision work for teams and divisions. We co-created vision statements (and mission) through a workshop. While the end results were not lofty consultant speak visions, most of the time they didn’t mention people in the equation and in fact, the leaders didn’t have their people in the forefront of their mind at all – just the end result. I think you can guess where that led us…
For my small business, I’ve replaced a long term goal based vision with a vision for the way my business should feel and the satisfaction I want to give and get from my work and life. Not perfect and not a statement but a decent guide for my choices and actions.
Alli, Thanks for sharing that example and love what you are doing for your business. In my mind, what you have established a philosophy of how you are going to do business and lead your business. This will be so important to navigate changes ahead successfully. Having this philosophy is so essential for long term success! Thanks again for your great insights! Jon
I believe the strength in creating formal visions is getting others involved… top down vision statements grow stale, and are often uninspiring. Collective direction on the other hand, done well, creats real magic.
Thanks, Karin. Great point. If more people are involved, it may help in gaining the clarity of what needs to be done with the agreed to vision. It also sets into action a more involved leadership philosophy. Appreciate you kicking off this conversation on vision and values. A needed one to have! Thanks. Jon
Jon, I applaud your challenge. I agree much of what passes for vision is not something that guides us. When I speak of vision, I am thinking about the desired state at what you call “Point B.” Bad vision and misguided vision statements are generally unclear. And yes, even good, noble vision fails behind poor execution.
But I’m going to hang on to my idea of the future. If we need to, we can call it something else, but I’m going to pursue it nonetheless. Mike…
Thanks, Mike, for your feedback and insights. Vision can deliver a lot of value when it is backed up with clarity of action and a commitment to a leadership philosophy. Unfortunately, visions have become muddled. It would be great to re-commit to what vision was intended to achieve. Thanks so much for your post and comments. Appreciate it! Jon
I really enjoyed the post, Jon and got me thinking about the true concept of vision. I do think that visions can get lost. I am working with an organization now and asked the director of HR for the vision and mission statements. He couldn’t find them and didn’t have a clue about the values either. They ended up sharing a newly minted one for me. So maybe philosophy and clarity are the true way to go. At least we can get our hands on it quickly and know what is really important to guide each of us.
As always, great discussion points.
Thanks for sharing that experience, Terri. It does show how hollow vision statements have become, almost just an exercise. If we have a solid leadership philosophy and a clear action plan, then we should be leading by example and gaining more actionable results from others. Your insights are always solid and am grateful for them. Thanks! Jon
Jon – I really like this statement you made:
“Our philosophy produces a way of leading and living and serves as our guide forward when times are good, bad, or changing. Having a strong philosophy on how to lead may be more vital than having a vision of where to go.”
There’s no doubt that vision statements can help to provide clarity about the destination we’re trying to move towards, but having a solid philosophy in place will help guide how we get there and determine the path.
Thanks for expanding my thinking on this topic.
Really appreciate your feedback, Randy. Vision statements may play a role but they definitely need clarity of actions to take and a solid leadership philosophy. Thanks again! Jon
I’ve always felt that vision is the dream, but clarity is the plan. We can make up all kinds of highfalutin sounding vision statements, but unless we have the clarity to make them become reality, they will never be implemented.
That is a great distinction, Michelle. Without a plan with clarity, the vision/dream will fade. Thanks for jumping in with your insights! Jon
Totally with you Michelle – like Jon said – great distinction.
Jon, I love the insightful questions you have raised on vision. I like the idea of stepping back and reviewing one’s vision for clarity and perspective. Reflection on your vision will allow you to go within and understand for yourself if it continues to meet your purpose and passion.
Loved your post
Thanks so much, Lalita. It is very important to take a step back and go within. It helps develop clarity and ensure leading with the right philosophy. Appreciate the feedback and insights. Jon