Big Picture

Why Having a Vision for Success Matters More Now Than Ever Before

Marty Strong

I’ve participated multiple times in a grueling sport known as adventure racing and enjoyed the pre-race fear of failure, the exhilarating start to the eight or twelve hour event, and the final painful waddle across the finish line on legs too worn out to function correctly. Inevitably in these challenging events, the woods are filled with individual racers, even two and three person teams, crisscrossing the environment on a feverish search for a point on the map.

That’s right, a map. Adventure racers are prohibited from using navigation technology, old school all the way. Wherever you go people are happy to assist you and that’s the problem. Much of this friendly advice is wrong. It turns out most of these well-intentioned competitors are in fact, lost and the volume of generous but wildly conflicting insights you’re receiving only makes it harder to decide.   

Today, our technical business support platforms and software programs gather and measure great globs of information, metrics, and micro data. This is of course, amazing but in many cases this bounty overwhelms leaders, defeating their ability to intellectually consume it all.

As a result of this volume related dilemma, leaders in businesses attempt to separate, segregate, chunk, and refine this white noise into dashboards, quad charts, KPI’s, and other tools designed to fuse critical input and gain knowledge that allows them to make good decisions. Over the past ten years, this technology enabled storm of data has steadily evolved until it not only measures the past but is used by practitioners to anticipate the future. A linear extension of what’s been measured looking into the rear view mirror. 

So, why should leaders ignore this linear logic in exchange for the blurred uncertainty associated with visionary thinking? One simple reason is when leaders replace visionary thinking with hyper measurement, when every business meeting is focused on an extensive list of micro data points, you are susceptible to strategic blindness. What do visionary leaders do differently? Here are five things you can do to successfully develop and drive strategic outcomes: 

  1. Take time to look around and study the perimeter of your business:
    Pay attention to your employees, peers, and leaders. Study your competition and your customers. Get your head out of the day to day to do list and open your eyes and your mind to the reality playing out all around you. Take notes, make assessments, apply what you’ve learned.
  2. Take time to look at the horizon, 6-months, a year, two years into the future:
    KPIs will not tell you what will happen in the future. To see the future you need to forget the past and the present and let your mind expand enough to see the opportunities and threats waiting for you down the road. Envision you, your industry, your company, as you wish it to be in a few years. See it now? Okay, how do you fulfill that vision?
  3. Practice and entertain divergent thinkers internal and external to the business:
    Divergent thinking is rule breaking, and rule breaking is liberating. How can leaders truly plot a course to a new and exciting future if all they apply is what’s worked in the past. Everything changes, it’s the way of the universe. Visionary leaders understand this and are comfortable reimagining, reengineering the future. These successful leaders pave the way for their peers, making new rules as they go.
  4. Envision the future and then steer toward that future:
    A vision quest is nice and if successful, exhilarating, however a leader’s charge is to apply that visionary thinking in practical ways, ways that change the trajectory of their business for the better. That’s why successful leaders invest in the next step, operational planning. The visionary plan steers the business from the present to the future in a systematic and thoughtful manner. A strategy supported by a solid operational plan of implementation, is priceless!
  5. Be ready to adjust:
    Thoughtful leaders with visionary aspirations are aware their strategic assumptions may be challenged or worse, turned on their head on the way to that bright future. If the rule of the physical universe is that change is constant, smart leaders accept this and are adaptable to those changes. You may have to change the business model, expand, or contract your market position, seek additional capital, or reinvent the way to produce your product or service. These are nothing more than tactical on the way to the strategic prize.  

In my adventure race experience, those who created a plan and followed their plan, despite helpful advice from well-wishers and fellow racers, were usually successful navigating the daunting challenges. Too much information, too much data, and too many opinions may shake a leader’s resolve to follow their selected strategic path, but I believe they should stay the course unless and until, a major event shatters their strategic assumptions. When that happens, well, it’s time to once again emulate the five things successful strategists do to win. 

Written by Marty Strong.
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Marty Strong
Marty Strong is a retired Navy SEAL, CEO, speaker, and the author of Be Visionary: Strategic Leadership in the Age of Optimization.

Marty Strong is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.