In the past few days, “vision” has been a repeat theme in my conversations with top leaders.
1) I heard board members encouraging a CEO to get out of the weeds and be more visionary.
2) A President discussed a big vision he had for his company, but wondered aloud “will they laugh at me?”
3) A CEO told me how some of his top executives need to develop to support his company’s growth.
This is all entirely appropriate. Vision is the first of what I call “The Three Non-Negotiables for CEOs” – meaning, these are three leadership tasks that every CEO must do. They cannot be delegated. (I’ll discuss the other two CEO Non-Negotiables in upcoming posts.)
Vision is proactively thinking about the future of your company,
how you can exploit opportunities and prepare for threats.
If you are a CEO, you must be proficient in driving the vision of your organization. You are the catalyst for getting this type of thinking started. It doesn’t have to be polished, but it does begin with you. While your team is executing yesterday’s game plan, you must be the visionary, writing tomorrow’s playbook.
Being visionary isn’t just for CEOs. If you are a middle manager today, recognize that the closer you get to the top of your organization, the more you will be expected to proactively think about its future. All leaders should be concerned with having vision.
Look around you. The era we live in demands visionary leaders. Advances in technology are disrupting every industry. Uber has disrupted the transportation industry; Airbnb, the hotel industry. Amazon is turning retail on its head. iTunes and Netflix have disrupted entertainment. Behind each of these companies are CEOs who had the vision to seize opportunity.
A well-known CEO disrupter, Elon Musk of Tesla and Space X, describes visionary thinking this way: “Going from PayPal, I thought, well, what are some of the other problems that are likely to most affect the future of humanity? Not from the perspective of, ‘what’s the best way to make money,’ which is okay, but, it was really ‘what do I think is going to most affect the future of humanity.’”
Follow these steps to cultivate vision:
1) Make time. Block time on your calendar for it. Not just once, but regularly.
2) Find a place. Studies have shown that we have our most creative ideas away from the office (see this blog). Pick a place that stimulates your thinking.
3) Record. Designate a place to keep notes, such as an electronic or paper file, a journal — anything that enables you to stop and start your vision work easily.
4) Jumpstart. Get those wheels turning if you feel stumped. Start your session by reading a profile of a company doing cool things in Fortune, Fast Company, or an industry publication.
5) Brainstorm. Jot down ideas — a personal brainstorm session. Resist the pressure to “figure it out” all at once. Begin by asking yourself, “What if we could…?”, and then, “What would we have to do to do that?” This great resource from Price Waterhouse Cooper contains other questions to get ideas flowing.
6) Focus. Let the ideas marinate. Think about them for a few days or a week. Discuss them with trusted lieutenants or an outside advisor — one who is open to new possibilities and will ask more questions to stimulate your thinking.
7) Refine. Return to your ideas, and refine them. By giving them time to marinate, the best ideas should bubble up to the top.
Finally, one of the most common “vision-blockers” is the question “How?” As in, “How could we ever do that?” Leaders can either allow this question to be a blockade to an ambitious vision, or they can respond as Peter Block does in this great title of his book, The Answer to How is Yes!
President Kennedy wasn’t a rocket scientist when he challenged our nation to put a man on the moon. And Reagan didn’t have a background in demolition when he called on Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” Neither one of them knew how their vision would be fulfilled.
Each was simply a leader with a vision.
How far into the future are you looking as you lead your company or your team? If not you, who?