Driving in the Blizzard
Vision, or vision casting, may be one of the most difficult leadership jobs because it calls on a leader to actually envision the future. But ‘seeing the future’ is not easy.
One of the metaphors I have used to describe this leadership task is to compare it to driving a bus at night on a winding road in a snowstorm at 70 miles an hour with no headlights or windshield wipers – while all of the passengers are complaining about your driving skills.
Leading with vision is hard.
Leading with vision is hard. Nevertheless, providing a compelling vision for any organization or endeavor is a crucial element for creating clarity, unity and motivation. When a team has a clear understanding of where they are now, where they need to go and what it will take to get there, it provides the clarity they need to pull together to achieve the task.
Since vision casting can seem like some mysterious kind of divination, I find it helpful to break the visioning process down into four tangible parts.
- Defining the current reality
Before an organization can envision a desired future, they first need to have a thorough understanding of the present. In other words, before you set a destination it’s helpful to know where you’re starting from. (This is why your GPS asks for your current location before it sets the course for your destination.) What I have found over many years of experience is that organizations often have a distorted view of reality. They are often blinded by assumptions about their situation which are incorrect. The leader needs to work with their team to get the ‘brutal facts’ on the table so the team has a solid, consensus-based starting point.
- Articulating a Desired Future
Every organization has a mission, and that mission is about achieving some future goal or state. The leader must help their team to articulate what that desired future might look like in tangible terms. When I was the new CEO of Lenox China, I discovered that we had lost our #1 market share position to lower priced competitors after years of high-priced and mis-targeted product launches. We were adrift. Our desired future was obvious – become #1 again by listening to our customers and introducing products that met their needs. It was a simple vision that triggered several years of hard, focused work.
- Identifying the way forward
Using the GPS metaphor again, the next step is to lay out the step-by-step ‘driving directions’ toward your organization’s destination. This is the hardest part of the process because there will be many possible routes toward your goal. It will require tough choices to be made and the best leaders will involve their teams in articulating the possibilities and choosing the best options.
At Lenox we started by studying the most successful competitive products, and did extensive marketing research with our target consumers. We designed products with their input and worked with our factories to deliver them at more popular price points. Two years later Lenox was #1 again.
- Owning the vision
Finally, it’s not enough for a leader to just define reality and help determine a way forward, he or she must totally own the vision of a better future. This is the hard work of leadership. A new vision doesn’t become a reality because the leader sends out an email to everyone. The leader needs to visibly embody the vision - literally eat, sleep, and drink the new vision day in and day out in full view of the organization. The best leaders lead by example.
The best leaders lead by example.
If you want to see a true model of vision casting, just read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. In 107 verses containing about 2,000 words, Jesus laid out his radically new vision for ethics, morality and the relationship between God and man. He illuminated his vision for a new way of living and then, in encounter after encounter, Jesus modeled these new teachings. He healed the sick, lifted up the broken-hearted, reached out to the marginalized and taught his followers. He demonstrated in his life the values he espoused: inclusion, compassion, kindness, generosity, integrity, humility, prayer and forgiveness. Jesus provided the ultimate example of a leader lifting the eyes of his people to see a new and better way to live as God’s ambassadors.
Leadership matters to God. And a Christian leader who can lift the eyes of their team to a better future is a world-changer.
Rich Stearns is President Emeritus World Vision US, where he served for 20 years. His leadership career also includes stints as CEO of both Parker Brothers Games and Lenox China. Rich is the author of Lead Like it Matters to God (IVP, 2021) and The Hole in Our Gospel (Thomas Nelson, 2009).
(His book Lead Like it Matters to God was selected as the Outcomes Conference book of the year!)
CLATV: Hear Ed Stetzer's Leadership Podcast interview with Rich Stearns on his new book "Lead Like it Matters to God" - LISTEN >>