Richard Pierce Thomas

Leadership and Small Business Consultant

Ask twenty consultants their definition of Vision, and you are sure to get twenty different answers. The truth is when it comes to defining Vision, there is more than one way to skin that cat.          

What you will hear unanimous agreement on, however, is for an organization to achieve sustainable success, a compelling vision must accompany the hard work and perseverance. So, what makes a compelling vision? What I’ve observed is there are four key elements:

1) It’s about heart – Effective vision goes deep, beyond the trite statements of which market they are serving or what product they are creating. Powerful gets to the heart of the organization, speaking to what fires people up and gets them out of bed. It’s this emotional component that makes a good vision great. It’s also what makes it sticky, much more likely to be remembered than the current version growing cobwebs on the lobby wall.

2) It’s made real today – A powerful vision invites us into believing something about the organization that hasn’t materialized yet. The key is to define it in terms of it being real today, using simple phrases such as “we are,” or “Company X is….” It doesn’t matter that you aren’t there yet. By defining it in the present tense, you will be. Sooner than you think.

3) Less is more – One of the most effective vision statements I’ve seen is just one word long—10X. Ten Times is the vision for a client who defined their future state as ten times the profit and ten times the revenue in ten years, all while having ten times the fun. 

This illustrates another key point…the vision doesn’t need to mean anything to anyone except the organization. Vision works from the inside out. When it means something to you, no matter how it’s stated, it will mean something to the outside world, albeit with just a little explanation. 

4) It’s communicated…with dialog – I am amazed at how little time leadership spends talking about their vision. They will devote all kinds of effort in annual off sites defining or redefining their vision, only to stick it on the wall in the lobby and call it good. 

To make it meaningful, once the vision statement is defined, the work has just begun. The organization needs the opportunity to hear the story, and more importantly, answer the question of what it means to them. The conversation around the vision needs to continue well past the point it was created. 

Here is the secret to doing this…it doesn’t have to be you! The real payoff in communicating vision is when leadership figures out how to get out of the way. Get your next level of management or supervision to lead the conversations, discussing it in one-on-one’s or team meetings. Your job is to sit and listen, occasionally guiding them to keep it on track, but more often to observe how they can take it places you wouldn’t have thought possible.

The reality is, vision crafting is difficult work. It can be challenging enough for a team to craft a statement that captures the essence of what the organization is aiming for. Even more so adding the principles I’ve shared above. As with anything in life and business, however, the reward only comes after the hard work. Not before. Invest in the effort, whether it’s just you or your leadership team. Take the time to identify what is guiding the direction of the business. Shape your definition of the company’s vision with these four principles. 

And here is a tip to keep in mind in doing so…if in the process you find the team really frustrated and seemingly stalemated, then you are in the right place. I have experienced this repeatedly in facilitating vision crafting with leadership teams—that, at the point of greatest, frustration and disagreement in the process is the point of greatest potential for breakthrough. The mistake most make here is they give up, backing away from the discomfort and settling for mediocrity. Don’t let yourself off the hook. Your business deserves more. 

If you haven’t attempted defining your vision yet, that’s okay, too. Just start. As Pythagoras said, “beginning is half of everything.”

Rick P. Thomas is President of Activate Leadership, a leadership development consultancy in Washington State. He consults and speaks to organizations across the country, focusing on individual and organizational achievement.