In our world of non-profits, we often hear the word Vision in the context of leadership and strategic planning. The word Vision conjures up a mystical and magical place that perhaps only a few select can achieve, but that is not the meaning of Vision in leadership or strategic planning. This article, Sustainable Leadership Captures a Vision, explores the meaning of Vision and its application to leadership and link to strategic planning.
Vision is a desired image of the future. It is not a fantasy or mystical or secretive. A Vision in the context of sustainable leadership is not an unrealistic dream but a point in the future that to achieve will require effort, resources, determination, energy and brilliance. A Vision is what we want to become, a point when we have achieved our purpose, a point in time where we have reached our goal. A Vision can start with an individual, or with many, but to reach the Vision requires everyone involved to support and focus to achieve the Vision.
It is a myth that the top leader in an organization is the source of the Vision. Yes, that can happen and often societal causes start with the Vision of one or two founders. This can be referred to as Founder’s Vision, and at the initial start of the cause is indeed a Vision about the cause, rather than about the development of a non-profit organization. Sometimes this founding vision results in great early success that creates the need for a formal structure that leads to the creation of a new nonprofit. There is another term, Visionary, and in the context of this article a visionary truly can see the desired image of the future for a cause but may not have the leadership skills to navigate the founding vision to success. The cause continues and organizational structure follows but it may stagnant under the direct influence of the founding visionary. There is a distinct difference between a Visionary and a Leader. Not all Visionaries are leaders and not all leaders have natural visionary skills!
Sustainable leadership captures a vision, but the leader does not necessarily have to be the creator of the Vision. It is the responsibility of the leader to capture, articulate and develop a culture with resources to reach that Vision.
To capture a Vision, sustainable leadership creates or enhances a culture that:
- Challenges the status quo.
- Creates systems for strategic thinking and acting.
- Recognizes that Vision is only achieved through strength of the people in and that support the organization, not just the leader.
- Develops and/or supports skilled teams to reach consensus on the Vision.
- Aligns resources to reach the Vision.
- Evaluates progress toward reaching the Vision
There can be more than one level of Vision. The highest level is societal. World peace is an example, in fact many would state this is not a Vision, rather a dream. In this context let’s define it as a societal vision. An organization can place this vision in their plan’s or statement of believes but it is not under the direct or sole influence for that organization. In this case, perhaps the vision is an aspiration. The second Vision level represents a long range desired image of the organization and the impact it will have for being successful. There are no boundaries to the timeline for this level of vision and it can range from 10 to 500 years. The third level of Vision is part of a strategic planning process that identifies key prioritized organizational goals it needs to achieve to reach its mission. These statements, never just one, and are written as proactive, desired images of the near future, usually 5-7 years.
There is a difference between Mission and Vision. A Mission defines and establishes why the organization exists and a Vision places that mission into the future.
Sustainable leadership captures a Vision through strategic processes with dedicated energy. A Vision or a set of vision statements are a must for all organizations. Without a Vision, and the organizational resources to reach them, an organization may have a mission but lacks strategic alignment to reach that mission.