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Vision and Leadership

Leadership and VisionVisioning for CEOs is a topic that I often address on this blog. I don’t do so in an attempt to torture you with redundant thought, but rather because I believe it is a message that is often taken far too lightly by chief executives. A CEO’s ability to perform effectively is so closely tied to their ability to form a clearly articulated vision, evangelize the vision and then to execute on their vision, that no real discussion on executive leadership should take place without an emphasis on vision. Put simply, I believe that leadership absent vision is a train-wreck waiting to happen. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you simply cannot decouple the two without causing an organizational implosion. In today’s post I’m going to share a few brief thoughts on visioning for CEOs, as well as providing you with the thoughts of others on the importance of vision…

Examine any list of great leaders and you’ll find that to the one, they have a clarity and purpose of vision. The good news is that CEOs without vision will take care of themselves in short order, as they simply won’t survive for long. However worse than the CEO with no vision, is a CEO with the wrong vision. These CEOs can often go undiscovered for great lengths of time before their poorly constructed vision bubbles-up to the surface, by which time it is often too late to repair the damage. Many a good enterprise has been blown to pieces by a CEO with either no vision or the wrong vision.

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. 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. A well articulated corporate vision should be capable of being easily understood and distributed throughout the value chain.

As magically vibrant and illustrative as a vision can be, a vision isn’t really about what can be imagined – it’s about what can be delivered. A leader’s vision must be distributed, adopted, and deeply embedded into the daily fabric of the organizational culture. A leader who doesn’t possess clarity of vision cannot expect those they lead to have clarity in thought or deed. A shared vision based on common values is the gold standard of corporate alignment.

It should be clear by now that I believe your vision or lack thereof will shape your destiny as a CEO. But hey…you hear that from me on a fairly consistent basis. So in today’s post I thought I’d share the thoughts of others on this topic so you can see that I’m not alone in placing great emphasis on the correlation between great vision and success as a leader…

“The empires of the future are empires of the mind.”
Winston Churchill

“Destiny is not a matter of chance, but of choice. Not something to wish for, but to attain.”
William Jennings Bryan

“To grasp and hold a vision, that is the very essence of successful leadership.”
Ronald Reagan

“Dissatisfaction and discouragement are not caused by the absence of things but the absence of vision.”

“The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious.”
John Scully

I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can’t find anybody who can tell me what they want.”
– Mark Twain

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”
Henry David Thoreau

“After character, the ability to create, articulate, evangelize, and execute on your vision is what will make or break you as a leader.”
Mike Myatt (couldn’t resist slipping one in)

“Create your future from your future, not your past.”
Werner Erhard

“No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see the possibilities – always see them, or they’re always there.”
Norman Vincent Peale

“Where there is no vision the people perish.”
Proverbs 29:18

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it,but that it is too low and we reach it.”

I hope these thoughts will inspire you to take stock of your vision, and focus on its attainment as a top priority in the execution of your duties as a leader. I would love to hear your thoughts and observations in the comments section below. Don’t be shy – jump right in…

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    October 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    This is an excellent post.  I’m beginning to see the shortcomings of ineffective leaders, and it is caused mainly by a lack of direction and vision.  I find it difficult to know how to counteract that without having the authority or power to change anything directly.  I am, however, grateful for your insight for when that time comes so that I can be effective.  

      Mike Myatt

      October 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm

      Hi Jerrod:

      Thanks for your comment and the kind words. Leadership trouble can always be traced back to one thing – a failure to lead. Here’s a quick tip – authority is overrated and often misunderstood. Focus on influence not authority. By investing in relationships, delivering a certainty of execution, and doing the right thing, you’ll find you have much more influence than you may think. 


        October 11, 2011 at 5:43 pm

        Great article! What should a leader do if he focuses more on the vision than what can be done. Any tips?

          Mike Myatt

          October 11, 2011 at 6:33 pm

          It’s not at all uncommon for leaders to be very focused on their vision. Where this turns into a slippery slope is when the vision needs adjusting (strategically or tactically), but the leader doesn’t recognize it. The following post might help lend some additional perspective here: http://hub.n2growth.com/when-passion-impedes-purpose 

          Thanks for stopping by…

    Mark Oakes

    October 11, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Great post, Mike!

    Over the years I’ve spoken to a number of folks about the importance of Vision. Interestingly, many view the leader’s ability to articulate a ‘Vision’ as some gift that is passed down on stone tablets at Mt. Sanai. IMO, nothing is further from the truth. In fact, learning to develop an evolved Vision is a skill that anyone can develop.

    The ability to ‘see the future’ requires rapt involvement in an industry, sensitivity to trends and cycles and the willingness to make moves in opposition to current fashion (Benchmarking is NOT Vision). None of these steps are especially difficult. They just require the commitment to invest the time necessary to see the whole picture. Anyone can do it!

    I applaud the fact that you bring this topic up again and again. In our current economic/business environments we can’t hear this enough.


      Mike Myatt

      October 11, 2011 at 6:36 pm

      Thanks Mark. I agree that many leaders simply don’t invest enough time in “seeing the whole picture.” Everyone has blind spots, but leaders who deeply invest themselves in understanding the landscape (near term and into the future), are much more likely to navigate it well. Thanks for sharing the astute insights Mark. 

    Wally Bock

    October 11, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Great post, Mike. I would add
    the following to your list, from Leadership Jazz.  “The first responsibility of a leader is
    to define reality.” ~ Max DePree

      Mike Myatt

      October 12, 2011 at 4:12 am

      One of my favorite quotes Wally. I would add to what Max said by stating in addition to defining reality, a leader must operate within reality, and perhaps most importantly, recognize when reality is working for or against the vision. Thanks for sharing Wally. 


    October 12, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Good one. A leader should be a smart worker rather than a hard worker. A smart worker will bring a comfortable environment.

      Mike Myatt

      October 12, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      Thanks Poul…For what it’s worth, I actually think a leader is both. 

    Mike Henry Sr.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Great inspiration Mike.  Very convicting, too!  Thanks.

    John Howard Hatfield

    October 12, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Several times over my career I have worked for a leader; be
    it division, company or corporation; that was very dynamic in their vision and
    leadership or so we at that particular level of the organization felt. We were
    completely surprised to find that those on the board or higher levels of
    management didn’t have the exact same feeling to which we subscribed.


    When “our leader” was replaced with another completely
    lacking in vision and possessing not much more than the “company line;” the
    letdown can be almost devastating—especially to the young and inexperienced.


    There are pitfalls out there that can be hard to overcome
    even when your wagon is hooked to a visionary. Your ability to survive a loss
    of vision can be just as hard as developing your vision.

      Mike Myatt

      October 12, 2011 at 5:00 pm

      Thanks for sharing this observation John. Your insights are one reason why succession is such an important issue. I think it was John Maxwell who said “There is no leader unless there is a successor.”

    Tanveer Naseer

    October 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Mike,

    It’s ironic that you bring up the issue of vision and leadership as this was the basis of a conversation I had recently for the next episode of my leadership podcast series.  As such, this topic is one I’ve been giving some thought to lately.

    I think the challenge we’re seeing in leaders and organizations no longer valuing the importance of vision stems from our continued drive to look only through the lens of short-term objectives; of meeting quarterly forecasts instead of defining where we want our organization to be 5-10 years from now.

    Naturally, the argument made against vision is that the world is changing so fast how can anyone truly plan for the future.  Of course, the reality is that this is more an argument to stay on the sidelines while others take risks, out of the false hope that they can someone how tread water and still remain relevant.

    In the last few months we’ve seen many examples of organizations which are now struggling because they lack a clear vision of what they want to accomplish (e,g, HP), of what got them where they are and how to continue building on that early foundation (e.g, Netflix) or who became so myopic in their focus over short-term objectives that they overlooked the real changes that mattered; those which have caused their market to evolve, making the offerings they made in the past no longer relevant or meaningful to those they serve (e.g., Kodak).

    Creating a vision for your organization is hard, there’s no question about it.  But if leaders made the conscious effort to observe and reflect on those changes that matter most to their organization, create a general vision of what they want their team to accomplish in light of these changes, and then encourage their employees to help that vision evolve and mature, the process of creating this vision will not only be more successful, it will ensure their organization continues to remain relevant, healthy, and thriving in the years to come.

    Always enjoy the thoughts and conversations you spur through your writings.

      Mike Myatt

      October 12, 2011 at 5:04 pm

      Hi Tanveer:

      Your points are important for people to understand – A leader’s vision should be fluid and adaptable to changing circumstances, and the best vision is one that is improved upon by including other contributions to align and further expand the vision. Thanks for stopping by Tanveer.

    Mike Myatt

    October 12, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    I thought the same thing, but I love this quote so much I had to include it. Thanks LeRoy.

    Maroy Dallarte

    June 3, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Really this applies not only with business executives and firms but I guess in the whole leadership category as well.. very great.. have been reading and learning and being reinforced a lot here everytime I go in this blog, lets me rethink deep core values, things you allow and do not allow in yourself which is primarily the substance of character, and then vision, somehow empathizing and putting yourself in one’s shoes and walking with them and KNOWING where you’re going and being ready to be first to do the major decisions if needed be. having a clear and articulate vision is powerful to propel you and reaffirm and decision in every step, and to create path through the hills if that is the case. Am a CellGroup Leader, and Proverbs 29:18 really rings true to all of us. Great job sir Mike. Godbless. 😀

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