This time of year, most people have their attention on change of some sort. Whether you call them resolutions, goals, strategic plans or something else the point is to change how it is to how you’d like it to be. The sense of a clean slate at the beginning of the new year seems to inspire this desire for change. However, for most people it is quite challenging to stay the course. Research shows that approximately 80-85% of people abandon their New Year’s Resolutions by January 15th!
We could chalk that up to lack of commitment or some other personality flaw but perhaps it’s something more. Consider that most people set a goal or resolution in order to fix something that they believe is wrong rather than to create a future of what they truly want. There is a big difference between creating what you want and fixing what you don’t want. For example, reducing turnover is different than creating a magnetic organization that everyone wants to be a part of. Each of these intentions calls forth different ideas and actions.
There is nothing wrong with fixing problems per se however it is not the most powerful approach to achieving what you want. In fact, it tends to bring up defensiveness and resistance which is usually the opposite of what you are hoping for.
In order to accomplish sustainable change, it is essential to create a vision of the future that you and your people truly want, and then take actions to build structures in line with that vision.
Let’s face it; most of us are so incredibly busy we barely have enough time to breathe.
We get caught up in the day-to-day chaos and craziness of our work. In response, everyone talks about having a vision of the future, but it’s become commonplace for people to roll their eyes when someone says, “Let’s create a vision for the future.”
Typically, the reason for ignoring the future is “My gosh, it would be nice, but we don’t have time!” What we don’t realize is that most of the things that are filling up our to-do lists are a product of yesterday’s thinking. What’s on our plate today is a product of what we built in the past and so if you’re spending the vast majority of your time focused on the demands of today, fundamentally you are living in the past.
You are solving yesterdays’ problems hoping for a better future rather than creating and building the future you want to experience in reality.
Still, building a powerful future begins with having a vision. The primary role of a leader is to develop and engage their people, not only in their functions but to engage their minds and hearts as well. Having a clear vision of the future is essential to fulfilling this.
If you’re experiencing a lot of stress, frustration and feeling like you’re being pulled in a thousand different directions, chances are you don’t have a powerful vision of the future. Creating a vision of the future is not some “new age-y” pointless exercise. Having a vision provides clarity and power. You’re not just blowing in the wind responding to the needs of the day aimlessly. You’re going somewhere!
“In the presence of greatness pettiness disappears. In the absence
of a great dream, pettiness prevails.” – Robert Fritz, Author
Your vision of the future is what gives you your experience in this moment. To illustrate this point, imagine that tomorrow you were leaving on a two-week all-expense paid luxury vacation to your favorite destination. Now imagine that instead, for the next two weeks at work you will be short staffed and will have to cover several additional positions as well as complete an important report for your boss. Each of these scenarios creates a distinct experience in this moment despite the fact that neither is happening now, and neither is real.
That is the power of a clear vision.
As a Leader, having a clear vision is just the first step in the process of actually building the future. Nevertheless, creating your vision is essential for your development and for the development of your people.
Here are the elements of a powerful vision of the future:
- It creates a fire in your belly, i.e. you really, really want it.
- You do not know how to make it happen.
- You cannot do it alone.
- You will know when you accomplish it, i.e. you have some measurement or standard.
- There is little to no evidence that your vision is possible in the current reality.
How do you create a powerful vision?
- First, get clear on what you do not want. Make a list.
- Second, recognize creating a future is not about fixing or improving what already exists. It is about inventing or building something brand new.
- Third, imagine falling asleep tonight and waking up five years in the future and everything is exactly the way you most want it to be. What would it look like? Spend some time reflecting on what you really, truly want. Make a list.
- Fourth, create a one or two-line description of your desired future, stated in the present tense. Here are some examples:
o Cohesive team generating breakthrough results
o Highly engaged, elite team of professionals
o Award winning, world class organization
Make sure that whatever it is, the mere thought of it gets you psyched!
You have a vision, now what?
This is where the real fun (and work) begins. You start by creating a game to achieve it. Remember this is not about fixing or improving what you already have; this is about building something new. Are you going to be able to actually build it every moment of every day? Of course not, there are still the demands of today to fulfill. What you’ll notice though when you’ve created a powerful vision of the future, it creates the context for everything you face. It will inform your decisions about everything including those things that are a product of the past. Your vision will help you discover what new actions or structures are necessary and what old actions and structures need to be eliminated.
If you commit to actually building your vision of the future, it will require you and your team to begin to operate at a whole new level of performance. The best part is that it is exciting and energizing and even fun to play this new game. So many of the things that looked important or crucial prior to creating the vision suddenly become insignificant and, in many cases, irrelevant. Encourage your team to participate in this process as much as possible. What ideas for achieving the vision do they have? Open up a dialogue to facilitate feedback on what’s working and what’s not.
Making the Future a Reality
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” – Buckminster Fuller
Imagine the vision you have created has come true, imagine you and your team living in that future, what would you be doing? What actions would you be taking? What would you have stopped doing? What would no longer be necessary? Answering these questions from time to time will help you to design your organization to fulfill the vision you are creating. Designing structures and procedures in every area of your organization that are consistent with the vision is the key to making it a reality. This happens over time not all at once. Each step you take towards your future puts a stake in the ground and reveals what’s next to create.
When you stop playing the old game – focusing on surviving what was created yesterday while hoping for a better future – and start playing the new game – creating the future you really want and building the structures necessary to make it happen, a whole new rich world of possibility becomes available to you and your team.