Vision – the ability to see, to really see, in three directions

When I hear the word vision, I almost always think of looking out and ahead. But, within the dynamics of leadership and management structures, vision is actually three directional. To define our vision we must look to the past, to the present, and to the future.

Backwards Look – The past gives us a “mythology”, an archive of story and legend that gives depth to our work. Reviewing history helps us see the progress we’ve made, the lessons we’ve learned, and the price we’ve paid. Our history helps us appreciate the investment we and others have made with their lives and resources. The past also lets us see what didn’t work, thereby allowing us to conserve resources for more profitable ventures.

Here and Now Look – Looking to the present provides us an “at hand” look at the way things are right now so that we may analyze the effectiveness of our methods and goals in the past and our preparedness to meet the future. We can accurately assess our commitments, obligations, and involvements, measure them against our stated goals and evaluate them to determine whether they…or we… should continue.

Forward Look – Vision is a beckoning target. It articulates a view of a realistic, credible, attractive future for our organization.  It makes us focus our attention on worthwhile and attainable achievements. It provides the social and spiritual architecture that frames our identity.

Vision lends these four assets:

Values – what we consider to be important and worthwhile.

Commitment – what activities we will limit ourselves to.

Aspirations – the purposes we intend to pursue.

Evaluation – the standard by which real progress can and must be measured.

But there is one thing that vision is not.

It is not a high-minded delusion. Some visions statements really are quite fantastic. One church I worked with had as its vision statement “To bring the whole world to the foot of the cross.” Now, that is indeed a noble and exalted sounding target, but it is really quite irrelevant and impossible. It actually works against real progress for these two reasons:

First, it is so vague and indistinct one could never know if that particular church is getting anywhere or not. Measured against the billions of inhabitants in the earth, how would one local congregation ever attain it? They can’t and they shouldn’t even try. But using such a grandiose statement encourages participants to engage in the debilitating and compromising practice of delusion. One begins to possess feelings of self-importance and elitism, both terminal diseases for any person or group.

Second,  because it is so delusional in its nature, it promotes dogmatism, the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others. Notice the phrase “consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.” This is the problem, high-minded statements tend to lift one’s feet off the ground, so to speak, and divorce one from the practical and quantitative measurement of progress. This is not vision at all. It is like driving in the fog. Something very important is happening but you really can’t figure out what it is because you never measure the facts against what you have already proclaimed to be reality.

It is irrelevant because it does not and cannot ever be realized by that single particular group. A vision, if it is to have any value, must do more that articulate what is considered to be worthwhile. It must be a realizable and attainable objective. Lowe’s vision statement says that “We will provide customer-valued solutions with the best prices, products, and services to make Lowe’s the first choice for home improvement.”

With some elaboration, quantification, and qualification, this is workable. Why is a vision rooted in reality so important? Because, as I will illustrate in the next several posts, it becomes the rallying point for specific strategic and tactical effort.

Let me say it again, a vision is not merely an eloquently worded statement to be hung on the wall or printed on company literature. It is a definitive look at what the future will be like BECAUSE we set in place conditions and activities that will measure our progress towards its fulfillment.

How? I’ll begin to show you with the next post. See you on Thursday.

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