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Getting Yourself Into the Vision Game

—Adapted from “You Don’t Have to Be CEO to Be a Visionary Leader,” by Ron Ashkenas and Brook Manville, Harvard Business Review, April 4, 2019.

Here are a few tips to position yourself for vision-building moments:

  1. Get a clear idea on what a vision is and why it matters. Do not confuse vision (an aspirational picture of future success) with mission (why an organization exists), values (the principles and moral beliefs by which the organization chooses to operate) or strategy (the decisions about where and how to compete that bring a vision to life).
  2. Watch for opportunities to contribute. Contribute to the vision-work underway by other leaders. Translate an agreed upon enterprise vision down to the unit you are leading, or focus the work of your team on a local or regional vision. Catalyze innovative change for the organization based on some front-line innovation in which you are involved.
  3. If you find a vision-building opportunity, do not do all the deciding alone. Just as a senior leader might benefit from seeking your contributions to a major corporate vision, share the process with others working with you in any of your own vision-building. It will sharpen your collaboration skills as well.
  4. Learn by watching or studying how others go about the vision-building process. Talk to other leaders about visions they have developed to understand how and why those visions turned out the way they did. Study visions of companies documented in the business press or learn from partners or clients about the visions they have for their organizations. You will better understand what makes for successful vision-building, which you can then bring to the next opportunity in your own organization.

Because developing a vision for an organization sets the stage for strategy and higher performance, it will always be seen as an essential capability for top leaders. However, this does not mean that vision is always above your paygrade. Visioning requires practice, and there is no better way to get that practice than by building your craft through smaller or sudden opportunities to make a contribution that comes your way.



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