Leading through Vision [By Marc Sng]

“Leaders must invoke an alchemy of great vision.” – Henry Kissinger, United States Secretary of State (1973-1977)

We constantly hear that all organisations should have a “compelling purpose” to be a success, but what does “having a compelling purpose” mean? There are already dozens of adjectives in use that describe an organisation’s direction. To understand what purpose is, we first need to distinguish the various terms used to describe it.

A vision statement is what the organisation aspires to be at some point in the future. It is usually conceived by senior management to allow the organisation to transcend its simple day-to-day activities in a meaningful way. For example, the vision of Swedish company IKEA, a global business that designs and retails ready-to-assemble furniture, appliances and home accessories, is “to create a better everyday life for the many people  Today, IKEA is one of the world’s largest furniture retailers, with revenues exceeding SGD 55 billion in 2013.

A mission statement describes the business the organisation is in (or what it is not in) at this point in time. Its purpose is to provide clarity for the day-to-day activities of the management and staff. For instance, the mission of American online search giant Google is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and usefulrgest and most used online search engine.

People are drawn towards organisations with leaders who articulate a possible future (i.e. their vision) in a way that speaks directly to us and includes us in that future. Successful organisations utilise the clarity of vision of a successful future to instil hope and a sense of purpose in their employees, to drive the organisation forward.

Additionally, people are motivated by a vision that looks beyond the present day. They want to know that a master plan exists to carry them through the short-term challenges they will face. This is clearly illustrated by the legacy of Henry Ford. At the time, Ford’s vision of every family owning an automobile seemed laughable and impossible. Only the clarity of his vision and his conviction in it generated the support that he needed to make his vision a reality.

The essence of leading through vision is to conceptualise a possible successful future and articulate it to your stakeholders in a way that is clear, compelling and inclusive. Clarity in direction, being compelling in resonating with and inclusive of your stakeholders will provide them with a sense of belonging and ownership, making them feel they have an important role to play in achieving it. A clear and compelling vision that resonates with stakeholders’ aspirations for individual and collective success will result in a visceral “Yes, I want to go there!” response to the vision, for both the individual and collective’s benefit.

[1] IKEA Corporate Website (1999-2015). Retrieved from http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_CA/the_ikea_story/working_at_ikea/our_vision.html

[2] Google Corporate Website. Retrieved from http://www.google.com.sg/about/company/

By Marc Sng

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