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ARTICLE: You Don’t Have to Be CEO to Be a Visionary Leader

Updated: May 1, 2020


A simple, bold, inspirational vision can feel almost magical, bringing people throughout a company together around a common goal, developing strategies to achieve a better future. Unfortunately, building a vision has become more associated with a company’s top-level leadership than management.

Even as a manager (and aspiring leader), however, there are a number of opportunities to get hands-on experience in shaping vision. Read the full article on here to learn more about critical vision-creation opportunities non-CEOs can grasp, like contributing to senior leaders’ vision work, translating the company’s vision for the team, and developing a new front-line team vision that can be cascaded up through the company.

How can you position yourself for these kinds of vision-building moments, and strengthen the “vision-muscle’ in your leadership toolkit? Every situation will be different, but here are some practical tips on how you can make the most of these opportunities.

  1. Don’t 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). Organizations renew their visions more frequently than their mission, as a way to motivate themselves to new levels of performance.

  2. Watch for different opportunities to contribute: contribute to the vision-work underway by other leaders, translate an already-agreed enterprise vision down to the unit you are leading, focus the work of your team on a local or regional vision. Find opportunities outside your company to shape or build a smaller-scale vision in, like your faith-based organization, neighborhood association, a volunteer community organization.

  3. If you find a vision-building opportunity, don’t do all the deciding alone. Share the process with others working with you in any of your own vision-building.

  4. If you’re not actively involved in a vision-process, you can learn a lot by actively watching how others do it so you’ll better understand what makes for a successful one. Talk to other leaders about visions they have developed, and understand how and why those visions came 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.

Because developing vision for an organization sets the stage for strategy and higher performance, it will always be seen as an essential capability for top leaders. Visioning requires practice—and there’s no better way to get that practice, at any level, than by building your craft through smaller or sudden opportunities to make a contribution that comes your way.

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