Why Most Leaders are Failing at Vision & Three Things You Can Do Today

You’re an entrepreneur, CEO, or executive in an organization. You’d like to think you have a vision for where you’re taking the organization. But the reality is that most leaders either don’t have a clear vision, or they’re only looking ahead 1-3 years (a short-term vision).

If you’re in one of those categories, it’s not entirely your fault. Today’s business culture puts more value on “executing” than on “visioning”, even though a bold, powerful vision is the only way to create real transformation, avoid becoming obsolete, inspire and engage the hearts of employees and customers, and create a long-term competitive advantage in the marketplace. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s the only way to create positive impact in the world.

Creating a big, bold vision takes time, often the kind of down time that allows you to relax, think, and reflect. However, according to a Harvard Business Review study, the average CEO spends more than 72% of their time in meetings. It’s hard to be a visionary when you’re going from one Zoom call to the next.

The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner went on to find that only about 3% of a typical leader’s time is spent thinking about the future. 

Most corporate strategic plans only look forward one to three years at the most, hardly an inspiring vision for the future. The vision simply isn’t big enough and the organization only creates an incrementally bigger impact, instead of what is possible.

Often, it’s the Tyranny of the Urgent that creates a focus on business issues that are urgent right now. The problem is that it simply takes time to make the transformational change required to stay relevant in today’s fast-moving world. And, knowing which direction to steer requires a bold vision that looks ahead 10 or even 20 years.

I’ve had clients that push back and say, “How do I know what’s going to happen in the world or our industry in 20 years?”

I get it, you’re not a fortune teller. 

The work of a visionary leader isn’t about trying to predict the future, it’s about creating it. 

Visionary leaders start with a blank sheet of paper. They imagine what’s possible and really stretch beyond the ordinary. 

When Steve Jobs led the development of the iPod at Apple, it wasn’t just another music device. He envisioned a new way of storing and delivering music. Apple began licensing songs from record companies and eventually became the largest vendor of recorded music in the world. 

Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

 While Jobs may not have seen the connections to his actions while they were happening, he was following a set of deliberative processes. He looked at the realm of possibilities, created a bold vision, then designed a roadmap to take Apple toward that vision.

So how do you know if your vision isn’t big enough:

1. You’re only looking out one to three years into the future. Large-scale change, disruption, and transformation in an industry takes time.

What you can do: Create a vision that looks into the future at least 5 to 10 years, or even longer. Employ future-back thinking to connect your bold vision with your annual, quarterly, and monthly goals, as well as your daily habits and routines.

2. You know all the steps to reach your vision.  If you have a clear, step-by-step plan to reach your vision, it’s not big enough. A truly bold vision is one that requires you to create a plan that can be adjusted as you learn more, make progress, and begin to move in that direction.

What you can do: Create a vision that’s so bold that it scares you a little and that you don’t know exactly how you’ll reach it. When you start with this type of business and work backward to create your business plan, you can create so much more than if you follow a beaten path.

3. Your vision isn’t inspiring. If you aren’t excited to work toward your vision, it isn’t big enough. You may also feel some fear and that’s normal, but the thought of achieving your vision should be inspiring to you and your team.

What you can do: Spend time getting clear on what you’re passionate about, where your strengths and passions are, and how you’re here to serve the world. When you create a vision from that kind of alignment, your vision will pull you forward, create excitement, and feel meaningful.

Now It’s Your Turn

What are your thoughts? Do you work with visionary leaders or do you see a need for improvement?