Seeing and Creating the Future

"The very essence of leadership is [that] you have a vision. It's got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet."— Theodore Hesburgh. Where an organization comes from and where it is now is not nearly as important as where it is going.  It is the responsibility of the leaders to imagine big things, articulate them, to make all the small things go in the right direction, to translate the vision into reality.  The greatest threat to organizations is not that they aim too high and miss, but that they aim too low and achieve it.  And many don't aim at all; they simply do every day what they have done for years.  Nothing dooms an organization to mediocrity faster than people who believe that the way they worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow.

It is enlightened leaders who imaginatively see the future in tangible, exciting, and realistic ways that appeal to employees. The vision must align the organization's leaders, processes, people, and structure, as well.  I work with a variety of organizations and most have no vision at all.  Some have vague and ethereal statements that are forgotten by everyone, including the authors, as soon as they are written. A very few have really invested the intellectual energy that visions deserve.  Here are the attributes of the best ones I have seen:

  • The organization actually has a leader inspired vision (not one that the staff or PR department developed).
  • It is exciting, aspirational, and challenging, not mundane and routine.  It aims high, but is achievable and can be imagined as the organization's future reality.
  • It is specific enough to be understood and embraced by every employee; "this is where we are going".
  • Employees can visualize their own role within the vision; this is how I contribute...
  • Leaders articulate it relentlessly and forcefully, it becomes a mantra, a unifying theme with which all identify.
  • It is specific enough to inform strategy development (ends, ways, and means).
  • It is consistently used, referred to, and serves as a working reference point for decisions, activities and planning.

During the Apollo space program in the '60s and 70s, it was said that if one were to ask any NASA employee from the Administrator to the janitors what they did, they would reply: "My job is to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth."  Or words to that effect.  And they lived it every day.

That's vision.

"You've got to think about big things while you're doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction." — Alvin Toffler

Keith Stalder, #38

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