The Power of Vision: Lessons from a First-Time CEO

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“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).  This pearl of wisdom is far more applicable to the business world than almost anything else you will learn in Business School.

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Everything in business flows from vision, including your strategy. Unfortunately many people overlook the significance of developing a strong vision.  They quickly jump to strategy and dive into operations.

It’s easy to shrug off vision as something that is nebulous or touchy-feely. But developing a vision is not just some fluffy exercise. Everything you measure operationally has to tie back to what you’re trying to accomplish as a business, your vision.

Ultimately, vision is so powerful because it tells you where you are trying to go. It strikes the path.

Are we trying to go west to California or are we trying to go over to Europe? Vision maps it so that we can tie everything we do back to what we’re trying to accomplish, where we’re trying to go.

Strategy flows from vision. Strategy is all about how you’re going to get where you’re going.

In the example of going to California, your strategy might be:

  • Am I going to take the northern route or the southern route?
  • How am I going to get there?
  • Am I going to take the interstate or back roads?

There is no right or wrong answer in terms of getting to California. The “how” is important, but it must be driven by the “why.” For our trip to California, vision shows us “I’m heading west: I’m going to California. Now let’s decide how we’re going to get there.”

It’s also absolutely essential that your operating metrics—how you measure your success—tie back to your vision.

Your vision helps you map the way to what you’re aspiring to become. What does it look like when you arrive? How will you know you’re there?

In a strategic map, you map out what you’re trying to accomplish in a way that’s concrete and measurable. Those outcomes can be defined, and from those outcomes, you develop your strategic objectives—what it takes to get there—and metrics that indicate whether or not you’re on the right path.

How do you know you’re in California? Perhaps when you cross the state borderline, you read the sign. Or perhaps your metric is viewing the beach and the Pacific Ocean. This allows you to determine how you know you’ll be making progress, like when you hit Kansas or arrive in Texas.

You develop a strategic map, and that defines the vision. This then boils down to two or three strategic outcomes which you can then reduce to the objectives that help you accomplish and get to those.

Your strategy (how you get there) and your strategic map (your operating principles) are key to your business planning. But first and foremost, as a business, you have to find your vision. Where are you going? What are you trying to accomplish?

It’s important that your vision be very descriptive. It has to describe and paint a picture, to be a vivid description that people can feel. It must be emotionally compelling. You should be able to experience your vision when you close your eyes. What is it like when you actually get there? That is what vision is all about.

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