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How many of you have worked for an organization mired in the depths of the past? How many of you have worked for a fire department without a clue as to what its future might look like? Sad to say, the answer in far too many cases is yes to one or both of the preceding queries.
Far too many fire departments stumble through their organizational lives without ever achieving any great focus or success. Their leaders seem content to make every tomorrow a rote-learning version of the yesterday that immediately preceded it. Quite simply, they lack any sense of the concept of vision. They state for all to hear that if the past was good enough for their fathers, it is good enough for them. Balderdash, I say.
It has been my personal observation that one of the primary attributes possessed by an effective leader is the ability to craft a vision of the direction in which they wish their organization to go. As a veteran of the trench warfare mentality of a large metropolitan fire department, I am intimately aware of the dangers that a rudderless ship of state faces.
My memory tells me that every aspect of our organization was continually in the panic-button mode, on practically a daily basis. Long-range planning seemed to be a decision on where to hold lunch. It was in this dearth of vision that I developed my deep and abiding faith in the need for a vision to shape the direction of any organization. Let me reach way back in time for an excellent example.
One of the great Biblical stories I have read is the one about Paul. We remember him as a great person in the history of the Christian faith. But this seems quite odd if you look back into his personal history. He was a man who did not like Christians. His teachings and life experience taught him to seek them out and persecute them. But there was more in store for him than he could ever imagine. It appears that the Almighty had a different view of things. It would appear that there was a vision for the future that had an entirely different vision of where Paul might fit in.
My research indicates that Paul was a man of tremendous intellect. He was extremely zealous in his approach to the faith of his fathers. Perhaps it was this drive and dedication that made him an attractive candidate for conversion, in spite of his strong stand against the Christians.
One day, as he was headed off to Jerusalem to persecute a few hundred of the faithful, he was suddenly struck blind by a great light on the road to his destination. Many of us can understand the strain of a man on the road with many things to do and many places to visit. That is how many of us live our lives today.
Here again was a man who had lived the life of a fervent believer on behalf of his cause. He was literally a man of deep convictions, with the ability to create a vision and gather followers around that cause. While many would argue over the rightness of his cause, few would quibble over his talents and abilities. And suddenly he was blind. He was a man who had to be led around. How many of us have felt like that?
I would tell you that the important thing to note in this story is the outcome of that "blinding light." He experienced a complete change in his beliefs, his perspective and his life. He became a leading teacher and proponent of his newly adopted faith. And his ability to create a vision for the early church was critical in its growth. What had been a force for one view of life on earth became a strong abiding force for another sort of direction. Paul's ability to create a vision and lead people toward it, and to teach them about it, became the central focus in his life.
Let us return once again to the world of the here and now. Let me share my vision for the impact of this article. According to Mr. Webster's famous book, vision is defined as, "…an act of seeing…a fanciful view." In his classic text, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey speaks of this ability to create a vision as being an exercise of our personal self-awareness. He states that, "…we have imagination, the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality…and we have independent will - an ability to act based on our self awareness."