(This post is written for alumni of LEAD365, although all are welcome to read it.)

Purpose, Vision, and Values

Mission and purpose are two words we often use interchangeably. Purpose answers the question “why do we exist?” For individuals and organizations, having a clearly developed answer to this question makes all the difference.

Vision answers the question “where are we going?” What is that picture of where we will be? What does that preferred future look like? Vision answers the questions of what things will look like next week, next year, and even the next generation.

Values answer the question “what is most important to us?” How many of you remember the values exercise? This was the page given to you listing 150 different values where we ultimately distilled that to our list of top six values. We quickly discovered that while we share some values, we often differ significantly in terms of what we believe are the “right” values. Values shape how we operate and behave.

Purpose, vision, and values—great companies are clear on these three things. Great leaders worth following are clear on these three things.


Let’s take a closer look at vision in this blog. Do you recall the parable of the bricklayers? The first person working simply said “I’m just laying these bricks.” The second person working said “I’m building a wall.” The third person exclaimed “I’m building a cathedral!” While all three were doing the same thing, the third worker had most caught the vision thing.

The best vision is simple and bold. President Kennedy did this when he said we would have someone on the moon in ten years. President Herbert Hoover did this in 1929 when he said there would be a chicken in every pot in each American household. It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who dreamed aloud that one day his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. Simple, bold, and visual.

When there is no vision, sooner or later it becomes painful and obvious—and painfully obvious. An organization can have a lot of great people working very hard, but going in very different directions with radically different pictures of that preferred future.

The great thing about vision is that it calms the fear that many people have about not knowing where we are going, and it gets people working in the same direction.

Doing the vision thing comes down to these five important and successive steps:

  1. Establish it
  2. Communicate it
  3. Plan it
  4. Implement it
  5. Assess it

Sometimes this begins with an individual at the top. At other times it is a far more collaborative and a highly involved process. One size does not fit all.

A friend (married couple) has three children who are being treated for cystic fibrosis. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has a simple, bold vision: “Adding Tomorrows.” That picture of a preferred future has led to breakthrough treatments, successful fundraising, and most importantly, added tomorrows for their children and many others. The vision of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has gone through all five of the steps above: it was established, continues to be communicated, is formulated into plans, is implemented, and then with thankful hearts assessed every day that their children continue to thrive.

How have your thoughts about the importance of vision been shaped? Where have you seen vision in your own life or in your company help move individuals or organizations toward great things?

Image by Chad McDonald. Used under CC by 2.0 license.