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Clarity of vision is more important than you think
Even after decades of research and training, I’m still amazed at how many people misunderstand the concept of creating and maintaining a vision. Organizations still struggle with it and throwing millions of dollars at consultants hasn’t improved things.
Almost everywhere I look, I see vision confused with purpose, mission, means, and secondary goals. And before you roll your eyes and conclude that it’s nothing but semantics, I’d ask you to consider the preeminent example of the amazing things that can be accomplished when people have an absolutely crystal clear vision.
Purpose is abstract: “To advance mankind’s capability of exploring the heavens.”
Vision is concrete: “Landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth before the end of the 60s.”
Do you honestly think NASA would’ve put a man on the moon in the time they did if their guiding vision was “advance mankind's capability of exploring the heavens?”
“Look – I made a better telescope!” BOOM! Advanced our capabilities.
“My telescope is even better!” BOOM! Advanced our capabilities.
“We launched more animals into space!” BOOM! Ah... you get the idea.
With a good vision, we can actually picture the ultimate goal in our minds. Our purpose or mission should support that vision but it’s not the same as the vision. A college track star’s purpose is to be the fastest he can be – to strive for personal excellence – but his vision is to run a 9.8 second 100 meter dash! Now THAT’S a clear, measurable vision. As he’s striving for it, he’ll be able to ask himself at any step along the journey, “Is this helping me achieve my vision?” And he’ll definitely know when he achieves it!
Most organizations don’t understand “vision”…
Here’s an example of a current multinational company’s vision statement, which I just pulled from their corporate website: “Our vision is to grow our business, while decoupling our environmental footprint from our growth and increasing our positive social impact.”
I’m guessing they’re trying to say something like, “We want to get even larger but we’re notorious polluters, so we’d like to keep growing in a more environmentally friendly way.” But that’s just a guess because this “vision” is as clear as mud (caused by the toxic sludge from their factories, I’m guessing).
Beyond the buzzwordy consultant-speak, it’s still incredibly abstract. Growing your business, regardless of what it’s “decoupled” from, isn’t a destination. It’s not concrete. How would you even know when you’ve achieved it and need to develop a new vision? Does any amount of growth count? Over what period of time? And what constitutes growth? Revenue? Profit? Share price? Number of products? People employed?
Again, I think you get the idea!
Enough about corporate-speak and consulting buzzwords…
Relaxed Leaders need to have a vision for ourselves so that we are more intentional about continuing to learn and grow. Can we learn and grow without a clear vision? Of course we can, but it’s likely we’ll take a very circuitous path to wisdom and personal achievement.
Looking back over my own career, there were many times when I experienced starts and stops, backtracks and re-dos, mainly because I wasn’t clear about where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to become. Experimenting isn’t necessarily bad but it makes a lot more sense when you know what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Otherwise, how do you really know if the experiment was a success?
Personal visions should be multifaceted because our lives aren’t one-dimensional. To create healthy, happy lives for ourselves, we need to achieve balance across several areas. For myself, I like to think of these as the Four F’s:
FAITH (& Spirituality)
FITNESS (& Health)
FAMILY (& Relationships)
FINANCE (& Career)
I put them in that order because if I can get my inner self – my heart and soul – in alignment and take care of my bodily health, then I’m able to be a much better husband, father, and friend. And when all of those areas are in good shape, it’s so much easier to kick ass on my professional goals.
If these areas work for you, fantastic! If not, then come up with your own mix. The point is to think about the different “facets” of your life because once you’re clear on those, then it’s much easier to be clear on a personal vision that moves you forward and drives improvement across the major aspects of your life in a balanced, affirming way.
A clear vision can lead to stress and anxiety…
If you’re going to create a true vision for yourself, you need to understand the dynamics of actually having a clearly defined destination. You see, when you have a clearly defined destination, it’s much easier to see how far away you are from where you’ve decided you want to be. If I’ve decided to run a 10 second 100 meter dash as my fitness vision, then the fact that I can barely jog 100 meters right now without losing my breath means I’m a LONG way from achieving me vision!
The distance between where I am now and where I want to be creates tension. In his book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge explains it by asking us to picture a rubber band stretched between our two hands. One hand is our vision and the other hand is where we are today. The further apart they are, the more tension there is. The only way to relieve that tension is to decrease the distance. We can do that by moving our current state closer to the vision state... or by moving the vision state closer to our current state. In other words, change our vision.
The temptation we face when we create a lofty vision for ourselves is to relieve the resulting tension by lowering our sights – by creating a lesser vision. It certainly eases the tension but the tension isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it’s from the tension that we get a lot of the creative energy we need to drive us toward achieving our vision!
Achieve a vision and then create your next one…
It’s important to understand that a personal vision isn’t set in stone – so instead of starting ridiculously high and then lowering your sights, create a vision that’s extremely challenging but not so far off that it becomes discouraging. Once you achieve your initial vision – and you’ll know when you’ve achieved it if it’s clearly defined – then set a new vision for where you want to go next!
“It’s not what the vision is, it’s what the vision does.” ~Robert Fritz
A personal vision gives you a clear destination but it’s not necessarily the destination itself that’s important. Whether you want to run a mile in 5 minutes or 4 minutes doesn’t necessarily matter as much as setting your sights on a vision that is measurable and achievable. If your current best is 15 minutes, then creating a vision of you running a 9 minute mile is great!
Can you eventually run a 5 minute mile? Maybe... but you have to get past the 9 minute mark first. If you have a clear vision of yourself running a 9 minute mile, then you will train appropriately, you will eat appropriately, and you will develop habits to help decrease your time to 14 minutes, then 13 minutes, and so on. As Robert Fritz points out, it’s not what the vision is, it’s what the vision does to us that’s most important.
A clear vision is a powerful thing...
I know the value of having a personal vision but you don’t have to take my word for it. Many experts on personal development have studied the impact of having a personal vision for your life – from Covey to Senge (and every motivational speaker in between) – and they have shown how a clearly defined vision helps people achieve more in less time than they ever do without one.
Relaxed Leaders can develop our own well-crafted personal vision statements and then share the practice with those around us. It’s amazing how a thoughtful, clearly defined vision can inspire people and move them very quickly toward achieving their own dreams.
We also need to understand the power of visions in general. Especially in recent years, we’ve seen people in despair, angry at the world and the poor conditions of their lives, grasping at a vision offered to them by someone else. Unfortunately, the vision offered was one based upon hatred and fear of the “other.” But it was a clear vision, and millions of people grabbed on to it.
Similarly, if you don’t have a vision for your career – for your working life – then someone else will end up planning and directing your career for you. And I can almost guarantee it won’t end up how YOU would’ve planned it, if you’d only taken the time.
The bottom line...
Over the years, I’ve coached and mentored many people. One common thing I hear is something like this: “I’m not sure what to do next. Things aren’t BAD but I feel like I’m just going through the motions.” But I’ve NEVER heard someone with a clear personal vision say anything like that! People with a clearly defined personal vision don’t go through the motions. They know what’s next and they keep moving forward.
Relaxed Leaders need to make sure we’re spending enough time, energy and focus on self-improvement. If we want to make progress as an organization or as a society, then we need to make progress at the personal level too. Will we always succeed? No, of course not. But we’ll fail in the right direction. We’ll fail forward, learning from our mistakes – learning from the experiments we do – if we know the destination we’re working towards.
“Only mediocre people are always at their best.” ~Somerset Maugham
So take some time to think about what you want to do and who you want to be at some specific point in the future. Look at the Four F’s that I described above or come up with your own framework. Then create a Personal Vision Statement and use it to guide your personal and career development. If you know where you’re going, it’s a lot easier to determine what your next step should be!
Would you like to take a more structured, proven approach to creating your Personal Vision Statement? I’ve got you covered! Check out the next two articles:
I provide worksheets and detailed explanations to walk you through the process of developing a vision that will help propel your life and career into a future you’ve designed for yourself.