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A Leadership Question: How's Your Vision?

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- In a race a few years ago, I saw a runner in front of me that had printed a slogan on the back of his T-shirt, "If you're not the lead dog, the view never changes" (also popular among Iditarod racers). While only true in part, this slogan exemplifies an important leadership responsibility: Leaders must provide vision. "Vision" depicts the "desired future," and a good vision's value becomes evident as we explore its characteristics.

Good visions challenge. Visions which only require minimal effort or which have been achieved previously do not encourage progress. Rather a good vision is ambitious enough to accept a healthy risk of failure. Leaders recognize that to fail, though striving hard toward a worthwhile vision, will still produce growth. Good leaders commit to success and relentlessly pursue the achievement of a noble vision, but the leader with a challenging vision capitalizes on the view along the entire journey regardless of whether the ultimate goal is ever reached.

Better visions motivate perpetually. Each organization and each person in those organizations will face difficulty, especially if the vision is appropriately challenging! Apart from the natural fear of failure, a good vision provides ongoing positive motivation and perspective even in trying times. Realizing the motivational power of a good vision, leaders would do well to include the vision often in their communications. Clearly communicating a good vision provides an abiding source of initiative and drive even when the view may be obscured by adversity.

The best visions inspire well beyond establishing a challenging destination and motivating its pursuit. They invoke the imagination to dream, to create, to improve, to innovate. They move people to invest themselves, to become owners of the vision rather than renters. And, when realized, an inspirational vision provides an unparalleled vantage point from which to inspire the next vision (and from which to enjoy the view).

Everyone has opportunity to lead, but leaders with good visions will undoubtedly be successful. Dream big, challenge yourself and others, motivate, inspire, and then lead. "The lead dog is responsible to the pack for the vision, whatever the view.