Vision Commission Confusion

For any chance of success every organization needs a vision, but in creating this vision, one should always ask – What would Jesus do?

A friend of mine who serves on the board of a very successful, growing company mentioned to me the other day that the company’s chairman of the board (who is not also the CEO) had decided to focus the board’s efforts on developing a long-term “vision” for the company. The intentions of this chairman – to make sure the company continues to grow and prosper – are certainly sincere and well-intended, but it does raise two questions: Is creating a “vision” for a company within the proper purview of a board of directors? Is a “committee” the best way to create a singular vision for the future of anything?

As my friend was telling me how important and exciting it would be for him and the other members of the board to create this vision for the company, one thought kept popping up on my mind: What would Jesus do? I had this image of Saint Peter and the other apostles inviting Jesus to a supper meeting; then with all them huddled around the table, Saint Peter (he’s the apostle in the blue tunic at right) opens the discussion by saying, “Okay JC, here is what we have decided is the vision for the future of this church you want to start.” I am quite sure that Jesus would have reacted by telling Saint Peter and the guys that this was the last supper.

And frankly, any person in a position of leadership – especially a corporate CEO – who does not have this attitude has no right to call himself or herself a leader.

The point is simple:

Vision is created and communicated by inspired, passionate individuals; it is brought to life and achieved by the collective, coordinated activities of others. Vision is an individual effort, implemented by a team.

Origins of Leadership

The most powerful tool of leadership – indeed, what is essential for leadership itself – is an intuitive, deeply passionate vision of what it takes to make the future better than the present. And the ability to communicate to others why this future will be better. As the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, the former iconic president of Notre Dame University said, “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision that you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion.”

This vision becomes a beacon lit by the leader that gives the others a path to take the actions that make the vision a reality and the future better. There is no better example of an inspired, passionate, well-articulated vision provided by a leader than the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. The vision communicated in that speech – passion, compassion, equality and justice – inspired actions that changed the lives of millions and made the future better. This was the act of a leader, not a committee.

Few of us will ever be called upon to provide the magnitude of leadership required of those such as King, Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Franklin Roosevelt and Lincoln, but if we want to be a successful leader in our own world – our personal, career and business domains– then we must understand, learn and practice the vision of leadership exemplified by these individuals.

Think about it this way: You are standing on a street corner; you are hungry and thinking about getting something to eat. You know that if you don’t get something to eat, your stomach is going to start growling like ravenous pit bull. Down the street you see a restaurant; you know if you get there you can get something to eat. You then communicate this vision to your brain with instructions to “get thee hence” to the restaurant. The brain processes and analyzes your vision and develops a specific strategy to achieve your vision and then communicates this plan to your legs – and, knowing food will be good for them too – they begin to move in a way that takes you to the restaurant. Along the way there may be detours, red lights or traffic that may cause the plan to be adjusted, but the vision of getting something to eat is never lost and you keep working at the vision until it is satisfied.

This may seem like an oversimplified, silly example of leadership, but this is really how leadership – especially in business – should function. It is the responsibility of the CEO to “see” the vision of what is best for the organization. This vision is then communicated to the management and board of directors (the supposed “brains” of the organization) who then create and approve specific, strategic plans to achieve the vision, that are then communicated to those who will implement the plans, causing the vision to be achieved. Of course, there is more nuance and subtlety needed to make an organization function effectively and achieve its objective. But the fact remains that a vision of what needs to be done to make things better in the future is one of the few functions of an organization that must be top-down.

I must confess to a certain amount (well, a lot) of frustration and disappointment whenever I see an attempt to “outsource” the responsibility for creating a corporate vision to outside consultants or committees. It also irks me to no end when others confuse vision with a “statement of values “or “mission statement” or strategic objectives. Outside consultants have created a boondoggle to rake in outrageous fees to develop ponderous, wind-filled, obfuscated “vision documents” that no one will read, let alone understand. All this because the CEO of the company abdicates or is incapable of providing the single, most important element of leadership: a clear, passionate vision of a better future that can be communicated and understood by all. Visionary leadership by committee does not work. To prove the point, look no further than the U.S. Congress! Show me a CEO who does not have an intuitive, passionate vision of the future for the organization and I will show you a manager – not a leader.

And the Moral of the Story …

The responsibility of vision is the domain of the leader. No matter how well-intended, it cannot be the product of a committee. Vision is a personal, intuitive, impassioned concept that when effectively communicated and zealously adhered to becomes a common goal sought by all. Vision is what gives license to lead. Leadership without vision is no more than a car without a steering wheel. There is nothing more destructive to the power of leadership or demoralizing to an organization than a leader who lacks the instinctive ability and passion to visualize and communicate a better future for all. An individual leader – not a committee – is the only force that has the ability to create a passionate vision that will permeate the entire organization; causing the followers to adopt the vision as their own and to do all in their power to make the vision a reality. And that, my friends, is what Jesus would do!



One response to “Vision Commission Confusion

  1. Congrats on that earnings report. Made me very happy at SSK tonight. See you on the 16th.

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