If a mission is what you do, a vision is why you do it — Finding those who are comfortable leading with their hearts as well as their heads

After many years in boardrooms my sense is that many CEOs remain sceptical of the vision process because they have seen it fail so many times before. The number one management issue I repeatedly hear is "engaging employees in the vision". So where does the process breakdown? I hear repeatedly from frustrated CEOs "the outside world doesn't understand who we are, or what our wonderful well positioned business does. It’s not reflected in the share price”.

What I find  confusing is that many CEOs report that their vision is to provide shareholder return. But that's no vision, shareholder return is something that we get rewarded for as result of executing against a proper vision. Is the CEO capable of unlocking his thoughts and shaping a real vision for the future or is the uncertainty a paralysing factor.

Having a shiny paragraph that articulates a vision is a far cry from weaving that vision into the daily fabric of organisational life.

This is what makes the difference when it comes to executing a plan for growth. People who know me, will attest to my commitment to story, that age old way of communicating and getting people engaged. I find that CEOs and executive groups often have difficulty in stretching their thinking. They are grounded realistic people more drawn to the idea of a mission which enables them to describe what an organisation does, rather than towards a vision, which forces them to describe why the organisation does what it does.

I find many strategic plans invariably fail when there is no overarching vision driving them. Developing a vision requires, imagination, intuition in the category and a deep emotional commitment to the desired future chosen. It is a CEO leadership balancing act of fact and imagination and the main reason why it is so hard to implement. Visions need to challenge people and evoke feelings that draw them towards wanting to be part of something greater than themselves.

I don't believe such vision should be framed in achievable set timelines. Because they are too rational, time bound and highly impersonal. For the vision to inspire, it has to reach, if only ever so slightly, beyond one's grasp. A successful vision is not simply a question of crafting a few paragraphs of verbiage that sound evangelistic on a website’s home page.

Regardless of the organisation’s motive to make money or provide social good, there must be clarity about what you want to change or create.

A successful vision requires personal passion about how you want to make an impact on the world—whether you run a corporation, a nonprofit, or a government agency. Regardless of the organisation’s motive to make money or provide social good, there must be clarity about what you want to change or create. Without substantive ideas and concrete actions, the process becomes a joke, often backfiring on the leader responsible as others become cynical. As long as the gap between believing and doing persists, no vision will be effective.

So what does a successful vision look like? A guiding vision should be broad enough that it speaks to everyone in the organisation, while telling an engaging story that people want to be a part of, one that challenges them and creates a sense of urgency. But the words are not enough. Success comes when the vision becomes embedded in the daily decisions made and actions taken by leaders at all levels of the company.

A vision needs to be crafted into a compelling story easily understood both inside and outside the company at all levels.

A vision is not merely an extended strategic plan or mission. It needs to be crafted into a compelling story easily understood both inside and outside the company at all levels. If a mission is what you do, a vision is why you do it. When we see a vision and supporting story that is working, guiding an organisation to sustained growth and change, we know that behind it are leaders who are comfortable leading with their hearts as well as their heads.