In my last post, I introduced what I consider to be the Four Fundamental Leadership Traits: Having Vision, Having Passion, Ability to Make an Ask, and Ability to Execute. Now we’ll take a closer look at the first of these four traits.
Defined by Merriam-Webster as “unusual discernment or foresight,” vision at its most basic is the ability to articulate a future possibility. It’s an essential thing to have if you hope to give people something to strive toward and bring your ideas to life. Vision isn’t necessarily innate, either; it can be developed, and many people manage to do so in the areas they’re passionate about.
Achieving your vision, in business and in life in general, depends on a mix of three things: faith, luck, and smarts. Faith is the confidence that your vision has value and is worth pursuing. Luck, good or bad, is the sum of circumstances you can’t control, be they the weather, the planets, or market conditions. Luck is by the grace of god (or whatever higher power you happen to believe in).
The third factor, smarts, is having the experience and the intellectual capacity to deal with your luck appropriately. Sometimes bad luck will put you out of business; sometimes you’re smart enough to get past it. Other times you might have good luck but you don’t have the smarts you need to take advantage of it.
Regardless of how much faith, luck, and smarts you have, there are roadblocks that you need to recognize and address to prevent your vision from becoming sidetracked. These can be mental, logistical, or interpersonal. Leadership depends on your capacity to identify these roadblocks, and appraise them honestly, in order to move yourself, and the people you hope to lead, past them.
Now, the path from vision to reality is different for every leader and every situation, but it does have some shared milestones. I call these the Eight Stages of Vision:
Excitement: Let’s say you own a little pizza shop and one day you have this great idea of expanding it into a multi-location business. You think, “I have a vision!” Maybe so, but you haven’t done any of the initial, proof-of-concept legwork.
Frustration: So you do some research and find out that your idea can’t be done. You don’t have the capital. The pizza market is saturated. Somebody comes along and tells you, “That’s a dumb idea.” (When you have an idea, there are always plenty of people around willing to tell you it’s a dumb one.)
Depression: Your idea is part of what helps you get up in the morning. And now you realize it can’t be done!
Acceptance: You decide that things are just fine the way they are. You set your vision aside and say, “OK, I’m just going to run my little pizza shop.”
Solution: Then—BAM!—when you least expect it, your creative juices jump out of your brain and you come up with a solution that you think can actually fulfill your vision. You realize, “Wait a second, I can crowd-fund this thing!” You have a path forward.
Anger: You’re angry at the naysayers. You look around you and think, “We’ve lost so much time! We could’ve had a dozen pizza shops by now! Why didn’t you just help me achieve my vision?”
Excitement: That old familiar feeling of excitement seeps back in. You’re jazzed! You’re ready to get it done!
Good Stuff: Your vision might not come true exactly as you’d imagined, but because you pursued it, you’ll get to some good outcomes. Granted, “good” doesn’t necessarily mean “successful”: you might add three stores to your pizza shop and realize you don’t have the operational chops or enough crowd funding to take it beyond regional. But you’ve learned and evolved as a leader, and in many cases, that’s worth the expense.
It’s important to point out that as soon as you think you have a vision, you’ve got to explore its execution. Otherwise, it’s just an idea, and always will be. You might think, “We ought to send people into wormholes and see what happens!” Well, that’s a pretty good idea. But are you going to be able to execute on it? Probably not. It’s just an idea, not a vision.
So, having a vision means seeing a pathway to its successful execution. It also requires pushing through the roadblocks and having the smarts to deal with whatever comes your way. If you do that, you might be successful in your pursuit. As a leader, having a vision also means that, in the event that your vision ultimately fails to materialize, you’re willing to analyze what went wrong and have the faith to promote your next vision—always keeping the lessons you’ve learned close at hand.Next, we’ll talk about the role of passion in leadership.