Which Comes First: Vision or Mission?

By Gary Clayton

I received this via email today:

Figuring out the right mission and vision statements has been a learning exercise for me.
Just when I thought that we had got them right I came across this article at http://ezinearticles.com/?Writing-a-Mission-and-Vision-Statement&id=24990
which states that it is the vision statement that has to flow out of the mission statement and not the other way round.
Does it mean that our vision and mission statements have to be interchanged?
We are at a critical stage and your inputs will be crucial.
Looking forward to your response,

On Vision and Mission by Gary Clayton

I deeply appreciate the sense of confusion that you have in understanding mission and vision. It is something I’ve seen many leaders struggle with. Unfortunately, many writers and consultants (I believe) spend far too much of their client’s time and money creating statements that will never deeply motivate any organization. And there are far too many books and articles that disagree upon what is a vision and what is a mission. After a while, it’s easy for the words to seem interchangeable - and maybe which is which is a matter of semantics.

Vision statement and mission statement from “I have a dream”

Borrowing from Martin Luther King, here are examples of what I view as vision and mission.


I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

This is an idea that I can visualize, hence it is a vision of an ideal future state that Dr King wished to see. The vision tells group members what is possible if all work together for a common purpose. (Johnson & Johnson, pg 73).


With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.


Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

OK, the mission is obscured here by the flow of Dr. King’s speech. But it can be reduced to a mission of

“let’s transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood, by which we can achieve our vision of judging all people by the content of their character, not their color.”

Stated that way, it’s clear what has to be achieved, without the burden of stating specifically how it will be achieved. The PLAN is how it will be achieved - and the plan better be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect current realities.

Does vision flow from mission?

In this case, I believe the mission flows from the vision. I can imagine many cases where an organization was formed because of the immediate need or opportunity. Thus, it is closer to recognizing what its mission is than what its vision is. But once it recognizes its vision, I suspect the vision will help clarify both its mission and its planning efforts.

Missionary activities are based on a vision

I think my interpretation of vision and mission is consistent with what I see in evangelical churches, where missionary activities are doing things to get all people to belong to their religion to implement their vision of all people achieving salvation as presented by their religion.

Another example was the US space program in the 1960’s. The vision was landing a man on the moon. Many missions were conducted in which things were done (ground tests and manned and unmanned launches), each of which brought the vision closer to reality. And many of those missions seemed nearly impossible until a comprehensive plan was developed to turn each mission into reality.

Visioning is tough in corporations

In my experience, charitable groups should be able to identify their vision and mission fairly easily. For-profit corporations struggle a lot with these concepts because the real vision is “wealth for owners” and the mission is “finding and implementing ways to create that wealth”. But we ask the executives or employees to create a couple of moving statements that will sound nice to the customers and will motivate the employees. [This past year has also shown us what can happen if the owners (shareholders) don’t have direct involvement in running the corporation: the executives’ vision and mission revolves around creating wealth for themselves, not the owners.]


Johnson, D. and Johnson, F. (2003) Joining Together: group theory and group skills (8th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Gary Clayton has participated in many vision and mission statement efforts. Gary provides leadership coaching and business consulting services to leaders and those who wish to become leaders in business and life.

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Gary. Your explanation of a Vision and a Mission using Martin Luther King inspiring dream is beautiful and explicit. In visioning exercises with corporate and with students I find it quite challenging to make the audience grasp the essence of a Vision and Mission. I am a great believer in the power of a Vision and its importance to strategy and organizations. This is perhaps because I served under a visionary leader and was privileged to implement his dream. It was here that I discovered that even when the task appears seemingly impossible to implement your own and your group’s belief in the Vision makes it happen. Thereafter in my own leadership role in projects as well as in organizations I could use it successfully.

I have your website link on my blog for my students to learn from your articles. Thank you. Dilip


Hi, interesting post. I have been thinking about this topic,so thanks for posting. I will certainly be subscribing to your blog. Keep up the good posts