“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision.”
― Helen Keller
Each year during our family vacation to Colorado, my kids and I climb at least one 14,000 ft peak (a 14er.) I say climb, it’s really a very difficult walk over loose rock and sometimes snow that varies from a gently inclined single-track trail to steep “steps”. In the days and weeks leading up to this adventure, we study the route, check the weather and trip reports from other hikers, and plan the day of the climb. Two things are certain. We will get to the top of the mountain, and the way we get there will be different from the way we planned.
As we set out to climb a 14er, our Vision is to reach the top of the mountain and survey all that is below us from the highest point for miles around. The first year we climbed as a family, I described in great detail what it would be like to stand on the rocks at the peak above 14,000 ft. How the land would flow out below us and we would be able to see the pattern of the mountain ranges around us. How the air would be clean and cold and thin, so that your lungs burned as they tried to get enough oxygen but also were invigorated by the crisp mountain air. How we would struggle and struggle and struggle, but once the goal was achieved, we would forget the pain as the beauty and majesty overtook us. On subsequent trips those that had been to the summit before had their own vision and, in turn, helped to pass that vision on to each new participant as the younger ones became ready to join us.
Leaders who care about the people they serve Illuminate The Vision. This is the first and most important job of a leader. To do this, we must first understand what vision is and what it is not.
Vision is not Mission. Mission is the reason for existence. Mission defines why you do what you do, and why you are who you are. Mission is timeless and is not an achievement. In the same way being human is not an achievement but rather what you are.
Vision is not Strategy. Strategy is how things will get done. Strategy is steps and plans and methods. Strategy changes (sometimes often) and must be flexible and nimble. Strategy is the route we plan to take to the top of the mountain. Then strategy changes when we encounter a snow field we cannot cross, and we must find a way around.
Vision IS the story you tell yourself and others about what it will be like to arrive at a particular future. Vision is exciting and challenging. Vision is inclusive because “we” are going here, and “we” are going to do this thing or that thing. Vision is the guiding star that we follow regardless of the obstacles and detours we face along the way. Vision is the mountain top we will be standing on.
Leaders illuminate the vision. Illuminate comes from the Latin illuminare, meaning “to light up.” It simply means to enlighten, make clear, or make illustrious (decorated). People need a vision, and how that vision is presented matters. People relate better to narratives then they do to bullet points. People remember things that are vibrant and clear. People are drawn to challenges that are attainable even if they are very hard. So, as leaders we need to cast our vision as a story about the future where we highlight the most notable improvements and acknowledge the obstacles with confidence that we can overcome them.
And we must do this over and over and over again. We must communicate the vision all the time, in all kinds of ways. We must celebrate milestones while keeping everyone focused on the future. During our family climbs, we often take breaks to let our lungs catch up, and during those breaks we look back at how far we’ve come and remind ourselves how cool it is going to be when we get all the way up. When people get sidetracked, discouraged, or begin to wander off the path, it is the leader’s responsibility to tell them the story of the vision again and again and again.
Illuminating the vision creates tangible results for individuals and for the team.
Clearly communicated vision increases trust and promotes teamwork. People are more likely to trust leadership if there is transparency about where the organization is going. People are more likely to work together if everyone knows what they are trying to accomplish. Imagine my kids’ response if I had said, “Hey, let’s go work really hard for a few hours,” without giving them the vision for what we would achieve. I doubt they would have been too excited about that.
When people can see themselves in the vision, it creates alignment. People are more likely to make decisions consistent with the vision if they can picture themselves as part of that future. This, in turn, makes it more likely that the goals required to achieve the vision will be met as everyone will be moving in the same direction. As my family ascends the mountain, each person has to hike their own hike. Knowing where we are going allows each person to move along the trail at their own pace, yet always be moving toward the summit.
A compelling vision that is consistently revisited, improves clarity. Life can be complicated and confusing. Vision gives everyone a clear point in the future to focus on when things get fuzzy. Even the best strategies will still have to be adjusted and rethought. Vision is the compass that keeps the team from getting lost. On our mountain treks we always encounter unexpected things that require us to literally “go around.” Knowing we are always moving toward the summit keeps us on target.
Vision is seeing beyond what is visible to what can be. If all we know is what we can see, we will never achieve more than what can be gathered from around us. We have to “go ahead” in our thoughts and see what isn’t there, yet. Our team members have the sight to see the present well enough. They need more than sight; they need vision to see the future. Lighting the way to that future is a leader’s responsibility, and it is The Kimray Way.
This is #1 in a series of posts about the 7 Ways Leaders INSPIRE the people they serve. The intro post for this series was “A Member Of The Herd“