Leadership Essentials: Vision

man on top of mountain looking at clouds below him

Leadership is about moving from Point A to Point B. If the organization, person, or entity does not have to move from Point A to Point B there is no need for a leader. The leader, after all, is the one initiating the movement toward Point B. The leader is worth following for multiple reasons, but the primary being that the leader is moving towards something worth moving toward – in the case above, the aforementioned Point B —and others follow because of this. But what is Point B and why is it worth moving toward? These two questions comprise the building blocks for today’s topic of vision.

Before commenting further on these two essential components of vision, let’s clarify what vision is not. Vision is not a stretch goal. A stretch goal should be measurable and have a definite end, whereas a vision might never be reached fully. Similarly, a vision is not a set of beliefs. Beliefs are vitally important and assist in deciphering who should be on the team and how the team behaves. But, beliefs are beliefs and not the vision itself. A vision, on the other hand, is something worth pursuing with all your gusto because it is grand and unique to you and/or your organizaiton. It is the culmination of a worldview, or the way things ought to be in your life, organization, or world. Unlike goals, which are necessarily tactical, visions are emotional and inspirational. Goals engage your brain, whereas vision engages your heart.

To quote Simon Sinek, vision always “starts with why.” “Why” has two necessary elements: Point A and Point B. First, the leader needs to spell out why you cannot stay at Point A. Inside an organization, Point A might be “status quo” and doing things the way things have always been done. The key here is to spell out exactly why persisting this way will not work. The leader needs to take time doing so because unless people see the need to leave Point A they will stay there because human nature naturally resists change. Then, the leader needs to start simultaneously painting the picture of what Point B is and why Point B matters.

As an example of how to do this I will share how our organization summed up our vision for surviving the health and economic challenges brought on by COVID-19. Put concisely, we repeatedly told our organization that we wanted to keep as many people healthy and employed as possible. We started by explaining why this mattered: Our first core value is Family, so we drew a line in the sand and told the organization that no matter what ensued economically, our first tactic would be to keep as many people employed as possible. My sisters and I took reductions in pay first because leaders should go first. Then our Executive Team followed, and so did other volunteers in the organization. We also told our team that we would not do layoffs, or “right sizing.” While we understood how some organizations used the reality of the recession to do this — some were also forced to do this in order to survive — we decided this was not for us unless things got so bad we were forced to. Thankfully, our only bad month was April so this never came to fruition and we were able to quickly reverse course on many of the other sacrifices.

We also over-communicated what we were doing from a safety standpoint in the building. Shutting down was not an option for us because much of what our customers did was deemed “essential.” So we provided PPE to everyone, wore face masks before it was mandated, did temperature checks starting in March, and so on. While these “whats” are important, we always communicated “why” we were doing them, which again, pointed back to treating each other well and being one big family. Admittedly, this view of culture is not for everyone. And, I am also not saying that it is the best way to run a business. I am only saying that it is how we run ours and thus, is integral to our vision for surviving COVID-19 and our grander vision of where we are headed in the future.

Make no mistake that outlining the “why” and “what” did not automatically make things easy for us. As we can all probably agree, 2020 has been many things, but easy is not one of them. Still, these two components provided the building blocks for a vision.

I will close by sharing that I often imagined what it would be like to get through the worst of the pandemic and recession without any forced layoffs. This was our ideal future. Thankfully, it has been realized to date.

I encourage leaders to dream big in their organizations and set out to achieve a better tomorrow. Not only will it energize your team, but it will also bring a renewed sense of purpose to you and them. This is what makes work both meaningful and noble. And, it is the kind of thing that makes leaders worth following.