Transforming Leadership to Shape the Future

Strategic Leadership Institute

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VISION: It Should Have Moved On When You’ve Reached It

03/05/2011 15:20


One of my earliest memories is of driving through the Namibian desert with my parents and being amazed by what seemed to be large pools of water floating in the air just above the surface of the road. The amazing thing was that every time we reached the spot where the pool should be, it had disappeared and another had appeared further ahead. I was completely baffled by this somewhat mystical experience in spite of my parents’ explanation that they were mere lugspieëlings (mirages) – optical illusions caused by warm air rising from the surface of the road.

Thinking about the attainability of an organizational vision recently, I was again reminded of lugspieëlings. Let me explain. It has often been stated that right now, at the end of the first decade of the 21st decade, change has become the only constant, albeit a somewhat inconsistent constant.1 Among the perhaps thousands of definitions for vision, some of my personal favourites are “a picture of the future that produces passion”,2 an “attractive, ideal future that is credible yet not readily attainable”,3 and “the picture of the future that the company wants to achieve”.4 All these definitions share the core-element of “future”, implying that although a vision should be attainable, it would cease to be a vision if it is attained. Just like the lugspieëlings on warm desert roads, they cease to exist when you’ve reached them.

The key to understanding this paradox is perhaps to start off by thinking of a vision as something that should be constantly changed and re-aligned in order to remain desirable and future-orientated. In an article published in New African William Kumuyi described a “cyclic process” by which a vision functions and described “visioning” as a “systematic exercise”. This cycle consists of four main elements namely:5

  • vision forming (with applicable information, insight, foresight and faith);
  • action (communicating the vision, mobilizing people, strategizing, reformulation);
  • mission (managing, production, sales); and
  • destination (development, dividends).

As the vision reaches the destination phase, it ceases to be a vision and a new or adapted vision has to be conceived. From there the whole process repeats itself (see graphic on right). However, because change is inevitable, a vision is susceptible to numerous internal and external variants throughout the cycle and should therefore at no point be seen as sacred or unchangeable. To make sure a vision doesn’t become obsolete or outdated, it is necessary to constantly assess the vision’s current value and relevance. To attain this, strategic leaders should implement systems that would enable their organizations to constantly monitor events in the external environment in order to identify possible changes and their affects on the current vision. Richard Teare suggested that organizations need to develop a “helicopter vision” that will enable them to have a “strategic overview” and plan their future development strategies accordingly.6

Again this means the vision itself need to be regularly updated and reviewed, always keeping it attainable but changing it in time to prevent it from becoming static. In times of constant change effective strategic leaders know to never loose sight of the vision – not only to steer people towards its fulfillment but also to ensure that it always remain a dynamic, strategic and meaningful ‘guiding light’ for the organization or team.

1. Finzel, H. (1994). The top ten mistakes leaders make. Wheaton, ILL.: Victor Books.
2. Hybels, B. (2002). Couragious leadership. Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan.
3. Daft, Richard L. (2005). The leadership experience, (3rd ed.). Mason, OH.: South-Western.
4. Foster, R. D. & Akdere, M. (2006). Effective organizational vision: Implications for human recource development. Journal of European Industrial Training, 31 (2), 100-111.
5. Kumuyi, W. F. (2007). After the vision, what next? New African, February, 8-9.
6. Teare, R. (1997). Enabling organizational learning. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management. 9 (7), 315–324.