Great leaders have vision. There are very few natural visionary leaders in the corporate world. I have been lucky to have worked with two during my 34-year career with Walt Disney World. The good news is that this is a skill that can be learned. It is probably the most powerful tool in a leader’s toolbox. So what is a vision? How does it work, and how is it different from a vision statement?
Let's begin by defining a vision statement and a vision. A vision statement is a statement of words describing where and what an organization wants to be in the future. It usually remains unchanged for many years. There is nothing wrong with vision statements. They have their place in the organizational structure. However, vision statements do not necessarily translate into action. Without action, an organization has a nicely framed statement on the wall but no forward motion.
In contrast, vision can be defined as a picture in the leader's imagination that motivates people to action when communicated compellingly, passionately and clearly.
To be a visionary, a leader need have nothing more than a clear vision of the future. The difficult task is communicating that vision with clarity and passion in order to motivate and inspire people to take action. A visionary leader who clearly and passionately communicates his or her vision can motivate employees to act with passion and purpose, thereby ensuring that everyone is working toward a common goal. The end result is that everyone contributes to the organization's forward momentum.
"In order to take the organization to the highest possible level, leaders must engage their people with a compelling and tangible vision," said Warren Bennis, professor of business administration at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.
What follows is a practice exercise that you can use to develop and hone your visionary communication skills:
Step 1: Think of one challenge within your department, division or organization.
Step 2: Imagine the big picture. Visualize the incredible future success that you will realize from the new and improved situation, as well as the benefits to the organization and to the employees. This is your chance to be a true visionary. No dream is too big or too fantastic. This is the "pie in the sky" result you are seeing.
Step 3: Determine how you will communicate your vision. What words and phrases will you use? In what environment will you choose to communicate your vision – in a staff meeting, one on one, with supervisors and managers? How will you communicate the benefits to the staff and to the organization? Write down your ideas on paper.
Step 4: Practice communicating what you have written. Make sure it sounds sincere. Practice out loud to yourself and to others. If you don't believe it, no one else will believe it either.
If you use this exercise frequently, you will find that expressing your vision in a compelling and clear manner will soon feel very natural.
When you are ready to communicate your vision to your employees, give them only the vision of success. Great leaders use vision as a tool to inspire and motivate, not to dictate. Do not give your employees the steps for achieving the vision, but let them determine the methods and tactics for achieving the goal. Great leaders know how to give the gift of vision and then step away.