I was talking to a friend of mine not too long ago and he was telling me about a vacation that he was planning. He shared some of the details, and as he was describing the trip I learned more about the destination, the kind of experience it would be and candidly, I kind of wished I were going there as well.
Part of our job as a leader is to create that picture of a destination that everyone in the business or on the team wants to experience. We get to create those feelings of excitement, anticipation, motivation, commitment, and engagement for others, as we tell a story about a future that hasn’t happened yet but could.
We hear and read lots about leaders and vision but that’s what a vision really is. It’s a story about a future that the team could create together, a story of growth, achievement, success and fulfillment that hasn’t been written yet, but that you get to help write. As a leader, vision is one of the tools that you use to help that better future happen, and without a destination in mind, almost any trip is impossible to take.
I want to explore some reasons why vision matters if you are leading a team, a business, or even yourself.
1. It moves our brains toward something.
Our human brains are usually either moving toward something or away from something. When we are moving toward something our brain is releasing neurotransmitters and creating a chemical state characterized by things like motivation, excitement, and commitment. You experience this anytime you are moving toward something that matters to you, whether it’s getting ready to prepare a meal with your spouse or deciding to climb Mount Everest. As leaders, part of our job is to help our team always be moving toward something because driving to a destination you are excited about is very different than just riding around.
2. It creates clarity.
Each day, we make thousands of choices over how we spend our time, and those choices are highly dependent on the clarity we have. Clarity on things like how to prioritize our time, what represents progress and what just represents work, what we should focus on and improve, and what doesn’t require as much attention. When we have clarity around these things our day becomes more efficient, more productive, and more meaningful. If we let our team work in too much ambiguity, we lose much of that efficiency and productivity. Ambiguity is always part of our work world and probably more than ever over the past year, but reducing it in favor of clarity is what a vision can help us accomplish if we let it.
3. It illuminates the path.
Until that moment when I have a clear destination, I cannot possibly create a path to it. But the instant I decide on the destination, a path to it is possible. And then I can explore the paths and choose the one that makes the most sense to travel. None of that choice, analysis, and consideration can happen until that destination emerges, but all of it can immediately after the destination is clear. My brain will even highlight possible paths for me that I might not have even considered before. New thinking, new ideas, new possibilities for how to go somewhere or achieve something immediately form in our brain as we consider a new destination. Let’s say I were to help you create a vision for one thing that you wanted to become exceptional at as a leader, that you believed you were good at today, but not exceptional. Once you decided on the thing, your brain would immediately engage to help you as you considered all the ways to practice, improve, learn about and excel at that one thing. It would search all of your thoughts, your history, your ideas, and start putting together mental maps that could help you find ways to achieve that goal. We can do that for ourselves and others by creating a vision.
Let’s be clear, you don’t have to build a complete vision for the future and hand it to your team. In fact, involving them creates more motivation for them as they shape and add detail to a vision of the future. But you do have to ensure that one is present, continually help your team refine it, focus on it and add to it, and then support them as they connect to it personally and find ways to achieve it.
A vision is critical if you want a group of people to move toward something meaningful and more successful. Without one, you are herding people toward working harder or putting in more time. With one you are supporting people as they chase a new and better future. As a leader, you get to decide which way you want to spend your time.
And how you spend your time will determine how long it takes you to reach your own vision of your own best future.