Don’t Let Vision Get in the Way

| | General Leadership

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”
Warren Bennis

Of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of definitions this one resonates the most with me. You may like another definition better or may have even crafted your own. But the notion of leaders having a vision is pretty universal one.

So if you are interested in leading or supporting others in developing their leadership creating a vision is a great place to start. Yet where I see many people get tripped up when it comes to leadership actually begins with their interpretation of “vision”. The typical “automatic” interpretation is that a vision is about something monumental like creating world peace. Not true.

A vision can be any possibility you want to make a reality. For example, it could be to have great meetings in your department. It could be to get all of your neighbors to know each other. Of course, it could be loftier than either of those. The important thing is that it must be your vision and you must be inspired enough by it to be willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Now some of you may be thinking my examples are not “visions”, they’re just goals. Well maybe they are both. Either way I say who cares which it is if it actually gets you to take new actions? We are going for progress here not perfection. Nonetheless to help you choose (or invent) a vision to use as the source for committing Acts of Leadership here’s the criteria I use for a vision.

3 Basic Criteria for a Vision

1. A vision is something that has never been accomplished, at least not in the way you imagine it;
2. It’s not just about you, it makes a difference for others; and
3. You can’t accomplish without enrolling others to participate in some way with you to make it happen.

So where do you start (or help someone else start)?

I suggest picking something you really want to make happen. Don’t get caught up in whether it is too small or too big, or whether it is a vision or “just a goal”. Choose something and write it down in one sentence. Keep it simple.

Then write down 10 things you could do to move one step closer to making that vision real. (By the way, this is a good thing to do even if you already see yourself as a leader. If that’s you try picking something you want to make happen, but you either haven’t taken it on yet or you are stuck.)

Now here’s the really important part…choose one action and do it. Do no be concerned with whether the action you choose is actually an “act of leadership” or not. We’ll be talking about that a lot more.

What is a vision you are going to work on and what is one action you are going to take? Please share your stories of what you did and what happened so we can all learn from them.

Whatever your vision and whatever your action one thing I can promise – we will all learn from it. So please do share. And if you’re stuck share that, too. You are probably not the only one. I look forward to hearing from you.


Enter A Comment

Liara Covert   |   19 January 2009   |   Reply

Visions can also be silent incantations. Imagine why Robert B. Sherman composed, “When You Wish Upon a Star…” (Many people learned this from Pinocchio’s story). Ask yourself who thought up the idea of throwing a penny in a well and making a quiet wish. Its not supposed to come true if you share it. Why all the superstition? Another way to perceive the gestures is as humble ones.

If a leader is someone who makes a difference, period, then every being gives meaning to the lives of others just by existing. As you learn to roll back to layers of judgment and conditioned views of hierarchies, you begin to realize that everyone is guiding or inspiring everyone. We do it consciously and unconsciously. We all make a difference in the ways we take steps to care for others and ourselves.

Jay   |   19 January 2009   |   Reply

Liara always beats me. 🙂
I love how you said vision is not just about us. That is beautiful, and not something you read in most companies mission statements- at least not their real ones. 🙂
Imagine a world where all the leaders realized this truth- take care of others, and you will intrinsically be taking care of as well. Great post!

Richard Reeve   |   20 January 2009   |   Reply

Vision becoming reality takes “by-in” on many, if not all levels. You mention community which is key. I’d add the inner levels of our being, our what Jung would call the unconscious. Our energy springs from those unseen reservoirs, so spending the time to acknowledge the role of that sphere can be very useful…no one likes being yoked to something they had no say in, and that is true for the deeper aspects of our being which can, in a manner of speaking, resent our ego’s choices.

semazza   |   20 January 2009   |   Reply

@Liara Great point that you can have a silent vision. That notion could give some people more freedom to commit an act of leadership for the sake of what they care about most. You don’t have to say your vision out loud to anyone. Yet in just clarifying a vision for yourself you can go about making it a reality in your own, perhaps quiet, way. The grandest of gestures are so often born of humility.

Also your point: “If a leader is someone who makes a difference, period, then every being gives meaning to the lives of others just by existing.” so eloquently articulates the premise for this idea. If you haven’t yet you may want to read the Story Behind the Idea in the About tab.

Thank you for your wonderfully thoughtful and thought provoking comments.

semazza   |   20 January 2009   |   Reply

@Jay I have the good fortune of working with executives who really get that it is “not just about us”. Am seeing a groundswell of leadership that is heart driven rather than hierarchically driven.

@Richard There are truly many levels to owning a vision both individually and organizationally. Many of us have battled our inner selves when it comes to declaring a vision. Thinking of something we aspire to create and committing to it are two entirely different things. Commitment can provoke immense fear. But is the battle with our fear, of failure, or of success even, or something else.

To be willing to commit an act of leadership what are the things we must resolve for ourselves and how can we go about resolving them?

prissyperfection   |   20 January 2009   |   Reply

I like your notion of choosing one thing and doing what is necessary to achieve it.

So often, I think we can get caught up in the rhetoric of a vision statement. For some, it becomes a ‘sacred cow’ that is revered but never brought to any form of reality.

Keeping it simple makes engaging others in it a much less onerous task. And it makes the possibility of achieving it that much more believable.

Henie   |   20 January 2009   |   Reply

Hi Susan…

You bring up excellent points, thank you!

For me, I envision a pyramid divided in three starting with “passion” at the bottom, “vision” in the middle and “goal” at the apex.

As you say, vision comes before all else until it is actualized.

Back Soon,

Suz   |   11 February 2009   |   Reply

I want to say simply that I agree that a vision is a great thing, without vision we go no where, yet a vision doesn’t really do anything until you start a plan of action… thanks for the boost of confidence!

The greater the vision, sometimes the harder to get started… Because you don’t know where to start!

Another issue with vision, is not knowing exactly where to go with it. That’s me!

My example… I’ve been doing a blog since late last summer for my friends and family on the topic of saving money & being frugal. I would like to see it evolve into something bigger and see myself having someone help me design a header and page elements to make it pop. I’m not sure of the direction I want to go with it… clean & business-like, or fun & quirky. To this point I have simply used the header available to me and found some freebie backgrounds that I change on occasion.

If anyone cares to take a look, let me know what you think! (I’m not particularly fond of the background I currently have)

semazza   |   11 February 2009   |   Reply

@Suz thanks for your comments. Tried to go to your link but got a message that address is not found. If you post a new link in a comment I would be happy to take a look.

Which way you choose to go has a lot to do with what outcome you want to produce including who you want to reach. That can evolve over time of course, but if you take your BIG vision and consider “what do I want to create over the next 6 mos to a year?” and “how will I know I’ve been successful?” it will help you focus on what to do now (including the site style).

For what it’s worth I have struggled with this for myself and it was getting in the way of me just getting out there with this blog. So what you see here is my starting place Like you I jumped in and decided I would figure it out along the way. One question I was asked that could be helpful to you is “what do you want people to feel when they come to your site?” My answer is welcomed & intrigued. In one month I don’t have enough input to know if I hit the mark but it certainly feels good to move forward and to get to engage with people like you 🙂

Kent Julian   |   26 June 2012   |   Reply

Great stuff, Susan. Vision is something that inspires us regardless of where we are now and regardless of the distance between the present and our vision. If we stick to it, we are on our road to success.

Susan Mazza   |   26 June 2012   |   Reply

Thanks Kent. This is really well said: “Vision is something that inspires us regardless of where we are now and regardless of the distance between the present and our vision.” Think I am going to start quoting you!

  • Random Acts Of Leadership™ | Are You Setting Yourself Up to Be Extraordinary? 15 February 2015, 15 February 2015

    […] Some of you may be thinking that I am just talking about vision here.  A vision is only one form of a context.  I happen to think vision has been misused when it comes to leadership.  Why do I say that?  Because I see far too many visions statements become meaningless words on a wall.  And I see far too many people get hung up on whether they have a worthy enough or bold enough vision.  (If you’d like to hear more about that read Don’t Let Vision Get in the Way. […]