MT Masterclass - Vision

What is it? Even before he was voted out of office in '92, President Bush Snr knew he had a problem with what he called 'the vision thing'.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

A vision is what an inspiring leader or organisation has: a view of the world, its place in it and an idea of what it wants to achieve. Business guru Warren Bennis says leaders need a vision that others can believe in and come to adopt themselves. That is how to command attention. In a world of blind organisations, the ones with vision rule.

Where did it come from? People have been having visions since biblical times. The Good Book says: 'Where there is no vision, the people perish.' Ever since, 'lonely leaders' have required a vision with which to inspire their followers. There are dangers in this, of course. Hitler had a vision of a 1,000-year Reich. It brought his country and half the planet to its knees. But Martin Luther King had a vision that still inspires today.

But the fine talk can delay action. As Lou Gertsner said when he took over at IBM in 1993: 'The last thing this company needs right now is a vision.' And yet, secretly, he had one: survival.

Where's it going? In Built to Last, Jerry Porras and Jim Collins say that a well-conceived vision has two main components: a core ideology and an envisioned future. Such a vision builds on 'what we stand for' (and won't change), and sets out 'what we seek to achieve' (which will require change and adaptation). Their entire work (and Collins' subsequent Good to Great) focuses on what they call successful 'visionary companies'.

So the message is: get a vision, fast, that inspires your people to perform, while remembering the danger in setting up ludicrous goals that won't be believed. As one manager at a multinational commented recently: 'In this company we don't have a vision, we have a hallucination.'

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