Good leaders create a vision, passionately articulate the vision, and relentlessly drive the vision to completion.”– Jack Welch
Every leader needs a clear vision. However, much like common sense, vision is anything but common and rarely clear. When it’s fuzzy or cloudy, it needs a lens to make things more clear.
Before we look at organizational vision, consider the literal example of vision and the human eye. Very few people have perfect 20/20 vision. According to the National Eye Institute (of America):
- More than 12 million Americans can only see things clearly at a distance (farsighted);
- More than 32 million can only see clearly those things or people who are close by (nearsighted);
- While a full third have blurry vision due to a less than perfectly round eye surface (astigmatism).
- More than 150 million Americans use corrective eyewear to improve their sight.
There are corrective lenses for each of these conditions, enabling people to improve their sight. This principle has application to visionary leaders as well.
Here are three lenses you need to apply to your organization in order to create, articulate, and drive your vision forward. Think of these metaphoric lenses as perspectives or filters if it helps.
- Diagnostic Lens. Before a vision can be created, you need to clearly understand what’s worked and what hasn’t. It’s also critical to recognize the current position of your organization and use that as a starting point.
Additionally, you also need to identify existing obstacles, procedures, and personalities that may undermine your vision at various stages. These may be difficult for you to see, especially if you’ve been with the organization a while.
Why? You may have developed an institutional “blind spot.” (Eventually, this happens to every leader.) If so, this may require you to solicit input from a “fresh pair” of eyes—an unbiased insider or an external consultant.
Once you have completed your diagnostics and you have a clear view of the organization and its needs, you need to incorporate your findings into the overall vision.
- Innovation Lens. Innovation is often “hiding in plain site.” It requires you to cultivate a specific perspective in order to enable it to jump into view.
For example, consider the challenges of trying to innovate the following commoditized products: paint, glass, and duct tape – pretty dull and boring at first glance with little opportunity. For decades, industry leaders did not see anyway to innovate on those products and increase their revenue. Yet:
- Sherwin-Williams developed a square, stackable, pourable paint container that revolutionized the industry.
- Corning innovated away from cookware, to fiber optic cables, flat-screen TVs, and biotech lab tools.
- Duck Brand duct tape breathed new life and profitability into the category with fashion-focused line extensions in a rainbow of patterns and colors.
In each case, the opportunity for innovation was always there. But it took visionary leaders to create an environment where others within the organization could see the opportunity that was right in front of their eyes, articulate it, and bring it forward.
- Unseen Lens Ultimately, as a visionary, you are going to have to lead your organization down a path it’s never been before. This requires the use of the “unseen” lens which will set the course for the desired future state.
- Christopher Columbus had to apply this lens when he set off to find the new world, at a time when everyone thought the world was flat.
- President Kennedy had to apply this lens when he pledged to put an American on the moon in the 1960s.
- Steve Jobs did it time and again when he challenged Apple to launch the iPod, MacBook , iTunes, and iPhone.
As a visionary leader, you need to be your organization’s eyes into the future, driving it’s performance down a pioneering path.
In order to be a positive, transformational leader you need a clear vision if your organization is going to survive and thrive. But you and the vision are indistinguishable. Without a clear vision, you won’t last. And without a visionary leader, neither will the vision.