Looking ahead for this year of 2020 makes it almost impossible for me to not think about vision. The word-play on the numbers 20-20 is so obvious, I think most people are staying away from it so as to not make people roll their eyes.

It just so happens that for the past six months, the concept of leadership vision has been stirring in me, and I think I’m gaining some new clarity about creating clarity. (Thanks for not rolling your eyes at that one…)

My assessment of the whole purpose, vision, and values landscape is that many leaders are starting to do a good job of creating clarity around their organization’s values, and an okay job around their organization’s purpose, but most still do a poor job of creating clarity around vision. Because of this I feel challenged to figure out what vision really is, how it’s done well, and what makes it so rare.

Here are my latest insights gathered from some reading, some TED Talks, some internal processing, and from wrestling with others I respect: One of the great leaders I know, Jeff Disher of DISHER, has been helping me name what I intuitively knew for a long time—there are two dimensions of vision. Jeff calls the two dimensions Destination Vision and Journey Vision. I like these terms and will use them here to capture what I’ve been wrestling with; often with Jeff.

Destination Vision

Destination vision is what most people think of when they think of vision. Great destination vision is a clear and compelling picture of something that will be pursued and achieved at some point in the future. Metaphorically, this is like the picture on the box of a difficult jigsaw puzzle. Having that picture is very helpful in putting the puzzle together.

Leading by DESIGN‘s destination vision is to have one thousand West Michigan leaders participate in LEAD 24/7 by 2027. This picture of the future will force us to live into our purpose of helping West Michigan realize its potential to be to leadership what Silicon Valley is to technology.

Our destination vision inspires us, helps motivate us to do the difficult things that need to be done, and helps us make difficult decisions. I find this kind of vision to be rare, and I suspect it’s related to some of these reasons:

  1. There is no right answer for what vision should be. Until vision is set, it’s very ambiguous and hard to see. Many organizational leaders are not naturally good at creating something from nothing. 
  2. Creating this kind of clarity often takes a lot of time and mental energy. Most leaders I’ve come to know haven’t established the kind of margin in their days, weeks, and months to allow them the time, energy, and focus to create vision.
  3. It’s scary to put a clear vision out there because it may not be accomplished. The level of public accountability that vision creates is not what most people want. Failure is always difficult to swallow, but when it’s up front for all to see, it requires real courage to take that risk.
  4. While vision may be inspiring and motivating to the leader, and his or her team of leaders, it may not be so compelling to the rest of the team. Again that can be scary to a leader.

Regardless of why it’s so difficult and rare (assuming I’m correct in that assessment) casting destination vision still needs to be done for someone to lead a truly great organization.

Here are some examples of destination vision:

  • Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle: They set out to become world famous and then did. They ship fish all over the world, have become a tourist attraction, and have been featured in countless stories in the media.
  • FEDEx: They created a new option for shipping packages that would be faster and less expensive than existing options. This happened and led to several others that followed their lead.
  • Amazon: They created a new way to buy books online—and then almost everything else.
  • Tesla automobiles: They set out to create the market for electric cars.

Journey Vision

This second dimension of vision is less often thought of as vision, but I do believe it is a kind of vision. I also think it’s an easier form of vision to create. While destination vision seems to align with purpose, journey vision seems to align more closely with values in the purpose/vision/values equation.

Journey vision creates clarity about how to do the work of the organization and not so much where it will lead. Here are some examples of journey vision:

  • John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach of UCLA, who won ten NCAA championships in a row and claimed that his focus wasn’t on how to win, but on how to play excellent basketball. Apparently Wooden started each year by teaching his players how to put on their socks so they wouldn’t get blisters. That is an example of creating journey vision down to the smallest detail.
  • Toyota’s LEAN production system, which focuses on statistical process control and continuous improvement, led Toyota to gain amazing influence in the automotive industry, changing how all other automakers do their operations.
  • McDonald’s, which created very repeatable processes for running any of their stores. Whether in China or in Grand Rapids, there is great clarity about how each McDonald’s restaurant will be run.

I hope you find these insights helpful. I can’t close out this posting without a callout to Jeff Disher for his insights and willingness to wrestle with me around this topic. Thank you Jeff!

As I continue to work to get my head around this topic of vision AND be able to help West Michigan leaders grow in this very important area of leadership, I would love to hear from you LEAD 24/7 alums. If you have insights you’d like to share, please reach out. In the meantime, keep working to improve in your own area of vision—both dimensions of it.

Be amazing this week!

Image by Leo Hildago. Used under CC by 2.0 license.