Qualities of Leadership: Vision

Vision Road Sign with dramatic blue sky and clouds.How can you be doing all the right things and yet going in the wrong direction? When you don’t have a vision.

If you continually watch your feet when you’re walking around, you will avoid tripping and stumbling — but unless you look up, you could be going nowhere and not even realize it. That is where the vision comes in … it gives people something to reach for: a picture of where they need to be heading, and a really good reason to try to get there.

Mark Miller has recently posted an excellent series on the importance of vision for leadership, but a major point he makes throughout is that it is the leader’s responsibility to provide this vision. In addition to providing a look at the “end state”, a well-designed vision will keep the team working together with clarity and focus … as a team. An often abused (and unattributed) quote is:

“A leader without a vision is a manager”

Not to denigrate managers — there is a need for managers. Managers make sure things get done, and get done efficiently. Leaders take an organization into uncharted territory, helping the organization transition into what is needed for future success.

So — what does a “good” vision look like? Well, it needs to be something big … but not too big. It needs to give the team a sense of purpose, but it can’t be so big that it overwhelms them. The vision needs to be something that you’re passionate about — because, frankly, if you’re not excited about it, your team won’t be excited either … and if they’re not excited about it, nothing will happen. Finally, it must be something that is worth doing — something that will make enough of a difference that they will want to make it happen.

The last aspect about a good vision is that it must be known to the entire team. In order to be able to understand and follow your vision, they have to hear it — but more than that, they need to make it their vision.  This can only happen if the leader communicates their vision — consistently and constantly.


  1. carolburbank

    An excellent point, Ed! I would only add, it’s a huge challenge sometimes to manage a changing vision internally, and translate that transformation to the world. Where the private and public meet, there’s a constant negotiation of visions, visioning. Work visions, team visions are negotiated among people — and when people’s visions are shifting (and they seem to always be shifting!), that negotiation becomes more essential and more challenging! What are some of the tools you use to help your clients navigate those negotiations, to share their process, their excitement about a vision with the team, and get everyone excited to grow?

    1. Ed Williams

      Carol — One thing that I’ve observed is that if the vision seems to be changing a lot, it’s not a good vision. It’s either not big enough or the result of a leader who lacks confidence and is buffeted by the storms of politics and fads. The vision should be sitting on bedrock — the strategies that result from that vision may shift as time passes and methods change, but the vision should remain unscathed. Implementation plans will by necessity be a compromise of people’s time, energy, skills, and priorities — that is subject to negotiation.

      If individual visions (at least those parts related to organizational vision) are shifting, then the problem is communications. This will be the subject of my next post in this series 🙂

      Tools? I am not a consultant — I’m in the trenches, both in my ‘day job’ and with my volunteer work. The only tool that really works is honest, personal communications. Email is only effective in providing context or background material. All-hands meetings are good for getting information out, but they are too one-way (nobody wants to ask the ‘stupid question’ — see my previous post on that). What’s left is small group and one-on-one discussions. This can be during the development of the vision — incorporating feedback can definitely help individual buy-in — but it is especially important when promoting the vision. The other aspect of getting buy-in and keeping the excitement going is continual reinforcement. Repetition helps ideas penetrate into long-term memory. There is a balance between reinforcement and annoyance that you have to maintain … but if the vision is a good one, it should infuse all the activities of the organization and continual reinforcement should be automatic.

      Thanks for your comments — it looks like you’ve helped me shape my next post!


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: