Part I: A Clear and Compelling Vision

Thanks to wikipedia, people are starting to get familiar with the notion of “disambiguating”—which is to say, clarifying what something is and is not. I’ll spend a lot of time disambiguating in my blog posts because I think that part of the reason people go down the wrong paths is that there isn’t clarity about where we’re even starting.

What Is Vision?

Let’s start by disambiguating vision and vision statements. A vision statement is typically a collectively developed sentence or paragraph that lays out what the world will be like if an organization or company is successful. The idea behind a vision statement is to align everyone toward the same north star. The reality is that most vision statements are excruciatingly lame and only very rarely does anyone have any intention of doing anything that would bring such a vision to life. In fact, despite what people may argue about “hoping to put themselves out of business,” a vision statement is actually more like a headstone. And people generally try not to do the stuff that brings them nearer a headstone if they can possibly avoid it.

By contrast, a vision is a deep and abiding belief that something can and will be different later than it is now. A clear vision is one that multiple people can see (and hear, feel, smell, and taste). A compelling vision is one that inspires people to work together and do something differently to bring that vision to fruition.

Sounds awesome. So why not write down that vision so everyone can see it and then make that your vision statement? The problem with vision statements is not just that they are lame. The problem is that for a vision to be clear and compelling, it requires both a competent visionary and a meaningful story—and a constant telling and retelling.

All leaders must undertake change efforts almost every day. Our team focuses on developing change leaders not because change requires some special typology of leader competencies, but because it clarifies that all leading is leading change. By that, we mean that leaders must become comfortable with the constant evolution of their work and their working landscape even as they remain focused on a big picture vision of the future.

When Change Leaders Are Strong in Vision

Effective change leaders create a clear and detailed vision for the future and make that vision concrete enough that their teams and stakeholders can see themselves in it such that it inspires ownership and action

Here are the specific competencies that leaders who become highly effective at evolution cultivate (and this is what we mean by “competent visionary”):

  • Ability to develop and maintain clear understanding of the problem to be solved and why it can’t be solved with the status quo;

  • Ability to assess the current state as it really is, not as one wishes it would be or as one believes it should be;

  • Ability to think comprehensively about the future state, including details of how it looks and feels and what is essential to realizing it, as well as ability to accurately anticipate challenges to achieving it;

  • Ability to understand audience and communicate the future state in a clear, specific, and accessible way; and

  • Ability to inspire action among a diversity of stakeholders that is aligned to the envisioned solution.

Consider where you fit on the spectrum of capability among these competencies. If you don’t see them as core to your own trajectory of leadership development, consider how that might affect your ability to see and respond to the need for change.