(This post is written for alumni of LEAD 365, although all are welcome to read it.)

Last week I wrote about purpose and shared a new thought about an approach that might be helpful in doing the difficult work of determining it. Today I am writing about the next step in the overall process of creating clarity around purpose, vision, and values.

You LEAD 365 alumni may remember that I don’t get hung up on what names to call each of the four components needed for any organization (or person for that matter) to have great clarity. I am a believer that a rose by any other name is still a rose. I do get hung up on what the four concepts are:

  1. Concept 1: Why do we exist? This is what we call purpose. Some others might call it mission, or even vision.
  2. Concept 2: What can we pursue in the future that will propel us to live into our purpose? This is what we call vision.
  3. Concept 3: What is our plan for achieving our vision? This is what I like to call strategic plan, however Conscious Capitalism refers to this as the mission. Again, a rose by any other name…
  4. Concept 4: What are our values? Values are the things that are more important to us that others—the unique priorities around what we’ll pursue and how we’ll behave as we’re doing it.

While purpose is intended to be something worth giving your life energy to, something that will likely not ever be fully achieved—like ending hunger in the world—vision is a picture of a preferred future that can be achieved at some point down the road, and in doing so, would propel the organization toward its purpose. To build on the previous example, eliminating hunger in West Michigan by 2025 might be a vision that would propel us toward the purpose of eliminating hunger in the world.

Many years ago I learned some rudimentary skills in orienteering, which is basically finding your way around undeveloped areas and finding specific spots using a compass, maps, and other resources. One of the techniques I learned while orienteering was as follows:

  • In order for us to get to our next target in the woods, we will need to go straight north for a long distance.
  • We could try to walk and watch the compass at the same time, which would be very difficult and unreliable as we dodge trees and brush, OR we could pick a tree as far away as possible that is directly north of where we are and just walk to it, however we get there.
  • This tree is analogous to a vision—something we can target and accomplish that will move us more deeply into our purpose.
  • The distance of the vision will differ depending on how far ahead we can see. As we come upon our vision we will need to set another vision, and then another, an so on as we work to live into our purpose.

In the case of Leading by DESIGN, our purpose is to help West Michigan become known as the Silicon Valley of leadership. People will start referring to the way we excel in leadership in the same way they refer to how Silicon Valley excels at technology. This purpose will never be fully completed. Even if people do start referring to us in this way, our work to sustain it will go on forever.

The vision we have established is to serve one thousand West Michigan leaders in LEAD 365. This achievable target, and the ongoing relationships and investments we will make in our alumni, will propel West Michigan toward our purpose.

Here are a few more thoughts about what it takes to create and then cast great vision:

  1. The best vision is simple—easily understood.
  2. The best vision is bold—compelling and difficult to ignore.
  3. The best vision is shared by those in the organization.
  4. The best vision is visual—you can paint a mental picture of it in a way that helps others see it.

A few of my favorite examples of this kind of vision are below:

  • John Kennedy’s “We will send a man to the moon by the end of the decade.”
  • Martin Luther King’s “Our children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
  • Rotary International’s vision of eliminating polio from the earth. (They are getting very close!)

Let me know if you have any favorites. Maybe we’ll use them in our teaching.

My assessment is that identifying purpose and vision is something that is lacking in West Michigan leaders. I believe this is something we can do well, and I believe you alumni of LEAD 365 are the ones that will lead us into being the best at it in the country.

I know it’s hard work, but it’s worthy and it makes a big difference. Keep at it and lead well this week!


Image by rachaelvoorhees. Used under CC BY-ND 2.0.