Category Archives: Issue No. 2

Are You Leading Blindly? 

By: Misti Burmeister


Most leaders now recognize the value of vision. Just Google “how to write a vision statement.” I did and got more than 33 million results. Yet, if leaders know that having a strong and compelling vision is important, why do so few have one? Said simply, it’s not easy work. Rather than focus on how to write a vision, leaders would do better to begin with understanding why.

In an attempt to get a vision – quickly – many leaders will follow the how prescription, post some verbiage on the wall, and call it done. Then they wonder why no one is compelled by it. When you ask why the vision is important, these leaders mumble something about shareholder value or bottom-line results. Therein lies the problem, because the real value of vision is instilling a sense of purpose in your team – giving them something meaningful to work toward.

According to research from Harvard, leaders spend less than 3 percent of their time envisioning and enlisting. Meanwhile, 72 percent of employees want their leaders to be forward-thinking. Of course, businesses exist to make money, and motivated employees perform better, netting your bottom line an even greater result.

Two Kinds of Vision

A vision paints a picture of a desired future. It is attainable, inspiring, and naturally pulls out the best in yourself and others. It provides direction and fosters collaboration. Simply put, knowing where you’re headed is valuable; knowing why you care to get there is critical to engaging others. This is why the best leaders, the ones who provoke greatness in their teams, are always envisioning – in two key ways.

Corporate Vision: A powerful corporate vision pulls the whole team into action. For example, Steve Jobs’ vision to have “ten thousand songs in my pocket” ultimately revolutionized the music industry. Some people think his vision was to revolutionize the music industry. Nope, that was the outcome of his vision.

Personal Vision: A personal mission statement is also important. This drives decisions in your career and keeps you focused on achieving what really matters to you.

Of course, vision really gets powerful when a leader’s corporate and personal visions align.

Envisioning a Future for Yourself

Sarah, a program manager for an organization that develops “high potentials,” recently asked me to speak about creating a personal mission statement. “If I knew my personal mission, I would have no excuses,” she told me. “Without one, I can act without any clear direction and constantly question who I want to be. If I fail at something, I can pretend it was never my path.”

When I asked Sarah why this topic would be valuable to the young professionals in her program, she explained, “When I converse with people who know their personal mission, they have that little something extra that says ‘I’m truly alive, aware, and ready to bring the best I can bring.’ Anything meaningful starts with knowing yourself, and we all want our lives to have meaning.” Sarah is brilliant, inspiring, and absolutely right. A clear personal vision motivates people to dream bigger, aim higher, push themselves further outside their comfort zones, and overcome obstacles to accomplish more than they thought possible.

Envision a Future for Your Team

Like attracts like. Leaders who are committed to a greater vision (for themselves and their companies) are more likely to attract team members who are passionate, aware of their contribution, and wanting to give that little extra.

Think about the people who naturally elicit a following. Whatever their title, these people attract others who want to be part of whatever they’re up to. That’s because they’re up to something, which is better than blindly following someone who hasn’t a clue.

Figure out what you’re up to – your vision – and you’ll naturally “attract others who care about the very things you care about,” as Simon Sinek says in his TED Talk about how great leaders inspire action (which has gotten roughly 16,709,905 views)!

When Visions Align

If you want employees who are passionate, driven, and committed to a cause, start by uncovering your personal mission statement, and then folding it into the vision for your team. Here’s how:

Be curious. If you already know what makes you jump out of bed in the morning, ignore this step. If you don’t know, that’s perfectly OK, as long as you continue searching. Try this tip from Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of UMBC: “Listen to others’ stories. Through listening to theirs, you’ll find your own path.”

Take action. When you hear about causes or projects that resonate with your interests, look for ways to contribute. Stop worrying about how much money or clout you’ll get. That kind of thinking stops too many people from giving what they have to offer.
Notice. In your area of passion/interest, what isn’t working? What small contributions can you make that will elicit a better outcome for the mission/team/customer? Think of small ways to add value and make a difference.

Share. Once you know what your “end zone” looks like, share it over and over again – in conversations with individual team members, using social media and blogs, and during team meetings.

Engage. People support that which they help to create. Paint the picture for your team and ask for their feedback. Use their ideas to sharpen your vision. Then ask them to own responsibility for the outcome of their suggestions.

Brace yourself. Sharing your vision requires vulnerability and a lot of courage, especially when it’s meaningful to you. You’re opening yourself up for the naysayers to criticize, and risking public embarrassment should you fail at what you’ve proclaimed you’ll do. Just remind yourself that failure is often part of the process. Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford all struggled and failed many times before they succeeded. If fear of failure had stopped them, we wouldn’t know their names today.

Of course, there’s an alternative to setting a meaningful vision for your team. You could just tell them, “You get paid to do a job!” In fact, most leaders choose this route – and then wonder why employees give less than their best. Rather than nag people to perform, why not create a necessity for action? All you have to do is spend a little more time envisioning a better future – for yourself, your company, your team, and the world.