No Vision = No Future

March 6, 2006
If you cannot picture the future in your mind, you will have a great deal of trouble moving out toward that future.

I would imagine that there are a great many of you who have labored in the vineyards of an organization that mired in the morass of the past? Far too many of you have worked for a fire department without a clue as to what their future might look like. If you cannot picture the future in your mind, you will have a great deal of trouble moving out toward that future.

It has been my experience that far too many fire departments stumble about without ever achieving any great focus or success. The leaders seem content to make every tomorrow an exact copy of yesterday. 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. Bull ----!

We need to have dreamers who can chart a course to the future. That means we need leaders who can dream and dreamers who can dream. We then need pragmatists who are able to take those dreams and translate them into a well-written roadmap. Finally we need people brave enough to follow the dreamer and the pragmatist. That is what this week's visit with you is all about.

In my time I have observed that one of the primary attributes possessed by a good organizational leader is the ability to create a vision of the direction in which they believe their organization should go. As a veteran of the trench warfare mentality of a large, metropolitan fire department, I am well aware of the problems which sailing about on a rudderless ship can bring.

As I recall, every aspect of our organization was continually in the crisis operational mode on a daily basis. Long-range planning seemed to be a decision on where to hold lunch. It was within this visionless agency 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 all 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.

However 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.

Anyway, 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.

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.

So 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 Webster, vision is defined as, "... an act of seeing, a fanciful view." In his classic text, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen 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."

These are the critical elements in the arena of vision for the future. But I personally believe that there is one more intangible that allows an effective leader to vault over their peers to even higher levels of success. That is the intangible of personal magnetism. This is where the concept of charisma comes in. Charisma is a personal force possessed by an individual which allows that person to deeply effect and strongly influence the actions of other human beings.

There is no school for charisma. So how then do you learn about motivating people, because motivated people are the essence of your support mechanism in defining a vision? The simple answer would be to read widely on the concept of motivation. There are countless texts available at any library. Many how-to-motivate books are available in bookstores everywhere. But all of the reading in the world will only allow you to set sail on the sea of leadership.

You must seek mentors in the world. They can be living, or they can be dead. What is important is their impact on the world, and your ability to study their style and apply it to your own personal experience. There are numerous examples of great leaders. Some such as Plato, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin were forces for good. Others, such as Adolph Hitler and Napoleon were forces for evil.

I look at the concept of a vision as being much like the destination of a journey. It is the place where you wish to see your organization reach, at some time in the future. Let us look at this in some real basic terms. Would you start out on a journey without having a destination in mind?

It is critical for you to determine what you wish to see happen in the future. This holds true for you as well as for your organization. You really cannot separate the two. We belong to organizations for a variety of reasons. Many times we seek out people who think or believe as we do. This would explain why some people belong to Masonic lodges and others to the Knights of Columbus. Or it can explain why some people are Lutherans and others are Baptists. We seek to be with people with who we can share feelings, emotions, and visions.

At other times we associate with people who enjoy doing the same things as we do. This is how I view my participation in the many bands with which I am associated. We all enjoy making music. And although some play trumpets and trombones, while others love flutes, drums, and clarinets, we all hold a central focus. We look for the joy that comes from a shared moment when each instrument plays the proper notes, in the correct way, at the right time.

There is something spiritual that seems to take over during a performance where each musician is truly on the same sheet of music. Our vision is excellence, and our individual goals are to be the best we can be on our individual instruments. It is the director

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