Vision, You Can’t See Your Way Without It

Posted on May 21, 2013

Vision - management3

How can you ever get to where you want to be if you don’t know where you’re going? How do you find shortcuts if you’re not sure of your destination? Most people spend more time at work than they do in any other part of their lives, with one exception, sleeping. That’s a lot of your life to spend doing something you don’t care about or in a place you don’t like. Having a vision for our work lives allows us to put our personal power behind the work we do and ultimately bring more satisfaction to our lives. A vision gives you a path to a desired outcome and the emotional resolution to follow it.

When I think of having a vision, I’m thinking about that emotional space you inhabit when your world is moving towards your desired goals. That place where you see yourself and you are in synch with the world around you. But the question I keep confronting is, what is it that a vision does to move, motivate and inspire?

I’ve known leaders who were absolute…well, visionaries.  Ones whose insight and perceptions were so far forward, it was as if they operated in a different time stream. They could inspire, charm and cajole people to do things that seemed impossible.  When the focus is right and the resources available, it’s a bit like watching or being part of magic. However, it doesn’t always work that way, in one particular case, the vision had a rather startling and negative effect. In this instance, the visionary leader became so entranced by the big picture that it was impossible to effectively implement anything. Multiple priorities competed for attention, all contributing to the big vision, but the vision was so overwhelming, it could not be processed by staff much less addressed. Not surprisingly, the consequences were financial, and people lost their jobs, but more concerning is that it also had an impact on morale.

So while having a vision is critical to achieving your goals, not all visions are the right fit. The question isn’t do you need a vision, but is your vision the right one? When I’m struggling with a challenge, I look inwards first and then I look outwards for answers.

As I look in, I imagine what my world would look like if things were exactly as I wanted them, if I had no limitations.   If the issue is work related, say I want to know what my next job should be, I picture myself in my imaginary office and ask questions.

  • What am I seeing?  Is there a window?  A large desk? Are there paintings on the wall? Is there a laptop?
  • Are my colleagues brainstorming and laughing? Who are they? Do I have any direct reports?
  • Who do I report to?  Do I have a boss or do I report to myself?
  • What kinds of projects am I working on? Are they huge, small? A blend?
  • What skill sets have I acquired?

The answers eventually lead me to different kinds of questions, like, what kind of position would I have to be in to do that kind of work? What kind of work has me out and meeting with various people or tucked away at home? The more questions that you pose the more likely you are to come out with an effective vision.  For instance, you may want to influence people.  You might envision yourself up on stage or out interacting with the public, but if you don’t want people prying into your personal life, you may want to think about being a professional speaker versus being a politician. If you want to be a professional speaker, what are you going to speak about?

So what does a vision do that makes it work? According to productivity expert, Ann Max, one of the basic things a vision does is give you a framework to operate in. It provides a focus and a path to follow. In essence, a vision gives you structure. I think it also gives you hope, a very powerful combination to get motivated.

Acquiring a vision can seem like a slow process, but the thing that makes it doable is that it can start off simply. It can begin with questions you can easily answer and only when you have one level firmly pictured do you move on to the next set of questions and details. How hard is it to imagine a place where you’d like to sit during your work day?

The next challenge is to take your questions externally. Talk to people you respect and trust and ask them what skills you would need to make it happen. Ask them what jobs they think might suite you. Once you have a clearer idea of what you want and what it takes to get there, you know  how to start planning for it.

The first time I did this visioning exercise was more than fifteen years ago.  I imagined myself working in a collegial environment, meeting lots of interesting people, doing intellectually challenging work and working for a cause that I cared about.  There were more details, but even the ones that seemed frivolous like the art work in my office or the view out the window (and there has always been a window) have usually come to pass. My last three positions have delivered that and much, much more, but I doubt I would have followed that first job opportunity if I hadn’t firmly pictured where I wanted to land. This approach has worked when I’ve done it to resolve project, staffing or personal challenges. This is why I think having the right vision works.

I would love to hear your feedback.  What do you do to get yourself focused and on target?  How do you know when the vision you chose is the right one?