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Vision - not just for CEOs.

Vision is a picture of what a leader wants their organization to become. It focuses on an end result, but not necessarily how to get there. A vision is achieved if it is built on a foundation of core values and beliefs, a purpose, mission and goals.

Where there is no vision, the people perish . . ."

Proverbs 29:18

It is time for first-line supervisors and mid-level managers to jump on the vision bandwagon. Vision is the buzzword of the '90s; a subject included in nearly every management or leadership training course. The captains of industry have been told to envision the future of their companies. Books and articles abound on the subject. Vision, however, has usually been considered the purview of senior management, after all, they are the only ones who have the authority to set a vision for the company - at least that is what we've been led to believe.

We have failed to create managers with vision because we have dealt with vision on a much higher plane. We have concentrated on the vision of CEOs and corporate vice-presidents. Where vision is truly needed is at the critical lower levels of management. Vision need not be confined by organizational boundaries. Vision is a tool of the leader and leaders can and should exist throughout an organization.

Vision provides one of the major distinctions between leaders and managers at any level. A leader who has no vision can be nothing more than an organizational caretaker. A leader without a vision operates only at a resource level. "We have here one of the clearest distinctions between the leader and the manager. By focusing attention on a vision, the leader operates on the emotional and spiritual resources of the organization, on its values, commitments, and aspirations" (Bennis & Nanus, 1985, p. 92-93).

Simply said, managers administer while leaders innovate. Managers take a short-term view while leaders are concerned also with the long term. Some writers have equated visionary leadership with position, contending that leaders are only found at "the top" of the organization. A cliche that attempts to describe the difference between management and leadership says that management is knowing how to climb the ladder while leadership determines if the ladder is against the right wall. This statement leads one to conclude that it is only at the top where direction can be questioned. This may be so when the questioning involves the fundamental direction of the company as a whole, but there is no reason why any leader cannot question the direction of his or her own department. After all, it is the sum of the parts that make the whole.

The manager/leader must realize that his or her vision has a direct impact on the entire enterprise. While the direction of a particular department may already be in consonance with the company as a whole, the processes that take place in the department are often ripe for improvement and innovation.

Regardless of where it originates, vision is a picture of the future. It is the result of looking beyond what is, to what could be. Innovative vision is appropriate regardless of the placement of an organization within an overall hierarchy. While many managers profess to have goals for their organization, goals are only the intermediate steps toward achieving a vision.

A vision focuses on an end result but not necessarily on how to get there. Goals focus on the how, while visions focus on the why. Martin Luther King espoused a vision in his "I Have a Dream" speech in which he described a world of freedom and brotherhood for all. President John F. Kennedy espoused a vision when he said that the United States should put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. Both of these articulations involved an end result in the future.

Visions can be powerful tools in the hands of a leader. This powerful tool can lose its power if it becomes static and set in concrete. Although most vision statements can stand the test of time, there are sometimes environmental changes that can cause a vision to become outdated. There are many factors that impact on the nature of business ranging from government regulations to customer fads. These variables impact on the corporate vision and should trickle down to the visions of lower-level organizations. A leader must be flexible and must be willing to adjust the vision to changing environmental conditions. A vision should be a continuing process.

A vision, then, is a statement of what an organization stands for, what it believes in, why it exists, and what it intends to accomplish. It provides a framework for everything the organization does. But what effect does a vision have on our subordinates? How does it help us to lead a more successful organization?

To answer these questions, one need only look again at what a clearly articulated vision can do. In addition to providing information on where the organization is headed in the future, it also provides inspiration and a guiding force. A vision serves as a reminder of why you keep going when you'd rather quit, keeps you on track, helps you and your subordinates to focus on what is really important. In short, a vision helps to add meaning to your work and your life.

Adding meaning to your life may sound a bit melodramatic, but don't forget that you send the majority of your waking hours and energy on behalf of your organization. By helping employees see the meaning of their work, we help them to grow. "When a leader can inspire people as well as show them how they can contribute to his or her vision, people begin to expand beyond their previous limits" (Altany, 1989, p. 16-17).


How does one create a vision? If your company has a stated vision, you should obviously start there. Your department's vision must not be contrary to the corporate vision but congruent with it. Take the corporate vision and build on it; make it relevant to your department. Show how your department adds value to the corporate vision.

Most leaders have a vision of where they want to go; they just have not taken the time to define it in specific terms or to write it down. In creating a vision, start with your values and beliefs. What is really important to you and how does that relate to your business? Use your imagination, your experience, and your knowledge. Don't hold back. You can tone it down later. Go beyond your current knowledge base. Give yourself unlimited creative freedom.

Unfortunately, many organizations respond to the need for vision by creating something that's generally referred to as a mission statement. Most mission statements are terribly ineffective since they fall to be a compelling, guiding force. They don't grab people in the gut and motivate them to work toward a common end. They do not focus attention, nor do they provide inspiration.

Then what goes into a vision? First, a vision is built on a foundation of core values and beliefs. Achievement may be one of the core values of your organization. Customer satisfaction may be the measure of that value. All aspects of the organization should revolve around the core values and beliefs. They should not be those values we think we should have, but rather those that already exist inside us. Values should be those which we demonstrate through our behavior. If we do not truly believe in the values and instead make them up, then they become hollow, rhetorical statements that will meet with justifiable cynicism.

Purpose is the second most important aspect of vision and is an outgrowth of the organization's core values and beliefs. A statement of purpose should clearly convey the basic human needs which are fulfilled by the organization. A good purpose statement is fundamental, motivational, and enduring. Making a contribution to the world by providing energy to others so that they may make their own contribution is certainly an enduring a noble purpose. A good purpose statement can be developed by asking questions such as "What would the world lose if our company ceased to exist?"

A statement of mission is also an important part of a vision statement. A mission statement states simply what our organization does. A rural electric company may have a mission such as providing reliable electrical energy to rural American families and businesses.

The final part of a vision are the goals. Goals are also built upon the core values, purpose, and mission. The goals clearly focus on the future and thereby guide the efforts of the organization. Each goal should include a vivid description of what things will be like when the goal is achieved. The goals should have a long-range outlook and reflect lofty ideals. Goals should be those with which employees can identify. A byproduct of such goals is additional motivation for the employees of the company.

Figure 2 puts it all together. Although it is incomplete and only a sample, this vision conveys just what the organization is, what it stands for, and what it wants to accomplish.


Having a vision is still not enough. A leader with a vision who cannot successfully communicate the vision to his or her subordinates is a leader with only a dream. Since the leader usually achieves visions through others, he or she must be able to motivate others to embrace the vision. Simply communicating a vision is often not sufficient. People must be engaged to and with the vision. In communicating the vision to employees, leaders often fall to engage them. This is because there is one ingredient that is often missing from communications between managers and subordinates - enthusiasm.

To engage others in his or her vision, a leader must show commitment. Enthusiasm is a very effective means of communicating one's commitment. A leader cannot expect anyone else to get excited about his vision if he isn't. By being enthusiastic, a leader demonstrates that he believes in the vision. Enthusiasm shows personal commitment by the leader's willingness to express emotion in an environment where controlling one's emotions is the norm. By enthusiastically communicating a vision to subordinates, the leader begins the process of motivating them toward achievement of the vision. This is the real bottom line of leadership - ". . . getting a group of people to move in a direction toward a worthwhile goal. If you can clearly define that worthwhile goal and sell them on the purpose of it, then you have leadership" (Lansing, 198, p. 14).

Glassman and McAfee (1990) point out the risks associated with showing enthusiasm. In showing emotion by being enthusiastic, a leader takes on ownership of an idea or vision, thereby taking on performance risk. The leader is risking that the subordinates will not accept the idea because it is no good, thus putting his performance at risk. He also takes a social risk in that the vision may be rejected because of personal feelings that the subordinates have toward him. Rejection of the vision may be viewed as rejection of the leader. The third risk is that associated with expressing emotions which may be viewed as inappropriate for a manager or leader.

Thus, being enthusiastic does entail risk, but risk is another attribute of a true leader. Enthusiasm is just another tool of the leader. It is a power tool that enhances a vision by commanding attention, creating interest, stimulating motivation, stirring emotion, and most of all, promoting action (Glassman and McAfee, 1990).

Having a vision and communicating it to employees with enthusiasm is a major step, but it is only the first step toward achievement of your objectives. To be successful, a vision must be revisited continuously. A copy of the vision should be given to every employee. It should hang on the wall for everyone to see. But more importantly, it should be a guiding force in every decision. Whenever a major decision is made, ask how it will facilitate one or more of the objectives of the vision statement. By doing so, you align the forces within your organization toward the ultimate objective - achievement of your vision.


Altany, David. Lead Now or Forever Rest in Peace. Industry Week, April 17, 1989, 16-17.

Bennis, Warren, and Burt Nanus. Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Harper and Row, 15-17.

Glassman, Myron, and R. Bruce McAfee. Enthusiasm: The Missing Link in Leadership. Sam Advanced Management Journal, Summer 1990, 4-6.

Lansing, Rick L. Football Coach's Lessons Can Lead Your Team to Victory. Management Review, April 1989, 14-15.



Why We Exist

We exist to make a contribution to the world by providing energy to others which may assist them in making their own contribution to the world.

What We Do

Our mission is to provide reliable electrical energy to the rural American family and business. Everything else we do must be in support of this core mission.

Our Values

* Achievement of mission is paramount and customer satisfaction is our number-one concern and a measure of our achievement. If we are not providing the energy that is needed by our customers, we are not doing our job.

* Integrity is not to be compromised. We owe our most honest effort to our customers and to each other.

* Teamwork should be a way of life. By working together we can accomplish much more than by working alone.

* Personal development is to be encouraged. Our organization cannot grow and develop unless our employees do.

Our Goals

* To be the most reliable provider of energy available to our customers. Anyone who has a need for energy will want our company to provide it.

* To have the best work force available. In order to provide the best service, we must have the best people. We will do everything possible to recruit the best and keep the best and to keep them the best.

David I. Silvers is an instructor of management and leadership at the Joint Military Intelligence Training Center at the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C. Mr. Silvers has served at four different levels of management in diverse organizations with missions ranging from intelligence analysis to facilities engineering. He has spoken before numerous audiences including the NATO Military Committee, the National Security Council Staff, and the Senate Armed Services Committee. In addition to teaching, he also serves as an internal management consultant and group facilitator. He is also a motivational speaker, a certified instructor of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People[TM] and a certified use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator[TM] which he integrates into his leadership training. Much of his recent professional activity has focused on research into several aspects of organizational and personal leadership.

Mr. Silvers is a 1974 graduate of the University of Virginia where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in foreign affairs. In 1994 he graduated from George Mason University with a Master of Arts degree in human resources management.
COPYRIGHT 1994 National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
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Author:Silvers, David I.
Publication:Management Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 1994
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