Mar
27

Is There Leadership Without Vision?

By Gary Clayton

Edison had a vision when he created the lightbulb.  Every business needs a vision to be built to last.

Edison had a vision when he created the lightbulb. Every business needs a vision to be built to last.

Can you lead without a vision of what you are trying to accomplish? Certainly, Edison had a vision of what a light bulb would accomplish and some idea of how it should be built. But what about yourself? Do you need a vision to accomplish your goals? Can you build and maintain the trust of a team if you don’t have a vision?

Vision is crucial to setting good goals

For the purposes of leadership, a vision is an image or concept of the future that forms the basis for your plans and actions and which inspires or motivates your followers. Here’s a fact: without a vision, there are no meaningful goals. Since a goal is commonly defined as something that is specific (a future state), measurable and time-targeted, your goals are formed around your vision.

It is useful to talk about two types of vision, just as we commonly refer to two forms of eyesight. Farsightedness helps us locate our destination while nearsightedness helps us locate our food on our plate and avoid low-lying branches as we walk. Long-term vision helps us see the possibilities the future may hold and helps us pick what we want for ourselves, our families and our organizations. Short-term vision helps us take advantage of current market conditions and avoid immediate dangers.

Both long-term and short-term visions are important

These two types of vision help us set long-term and short-term goals. For many of us, it’s easier to recognize our goals than to recognize the vision that fostered them. For instance, if you have built a business from scratch, you may feel you simply focused on what was necessary at the moment. Alternatively, you may have taken over an organization and felt that it was a very complicated machine that could be easily screwed up, so your focus became keeping it going, day-to-day and month-to-month. Either way, you’ve sets lots of short-term goals that were based upon your short-term vision. What about long-term vision?

Most of us do have a long-term vision. It may include sitting on a beach, playing golf, being surrounded by grandchildren, or many other desirable things. The one thing most of our long-term visions have in common is a sense of security. Unfortunately, as leaders, we are faced with many insecurities and the fact that our followers are looking to us to keep them secure. If you want to be a leader for the long term, you must accept the insecurities that go with it. Ignoring them by focusing on the short-term does not mean the insecurities will go away.

Achievement suffers without a clear vision

What can happen in your organization doesn’t understand your vision for the future? Silos are likely to develop, causing a cascading loss of efficiency. Here’s how:

  1. Without a clear vision, you are likely to set inconsistent goals over time.
  2. Different organizational units are likely to focus only on those of your goals that match their own agendas.
  3. Once different directions are established in your organizational units, much managerial energy will be devoted to protecting the aberrant directions, lowering total organizational efficiency and commitment to your goals.
  4. The goals of your units will be even more short-term, as they will be in respond your short-term goals and defending the aberrant direction of the unit.

In simpler words, your organizational units will act as silos.

What do you see as the future for your business or organization? One year from now? Five years out? If you aren’t sure, look to the goals you’ve set. There should be a pattern among them. Find it, clarify it, then identify as many uncertainties as you can. Some, you will figure out how to manage; others, you simply have to watch out for. It may feel uncomfortable, but that is typical with a long-term vision. It may make some things more clear, others less clear. It doesn’t answer all questions and doesn’t provide certainty, but it can provide a direction that inspires your followers.


Gary Clayton is a leadership coach who empowers CEOs, executives and other leaders to achieve greater success in business and life.

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