One of the first and foremost responsibilities of successful leaders and managers is developing a vision of a better future for their team. Theodore Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame University, cuts to the chase by saying, "The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It's got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion." Leadership success always starts with a vision. John F. Kennedy famously dreamed of putting a man on the moon. Eleanor Roosevelt envisioned a world of equal opportunity for women and minorities. Henry Ford dreamed of a car families could afford. Steve Job envisioned an easy-to-use computer that would unleash creativity. The vision we have for our teams will not be as world-changing as the examples cited - but can make a world of difference for the teams we are leading.

Extensive research on the Best Practices of High Performing leaders by the University of Michigan found that the best leaders "get everyone on the same page, and focused on the purpose of the organization." The Gallup organization's research on the practices of the country's greatest managers found that one crucial best practice was to "set expectations, and define the right outcomes." Let's dig into defining what a vision is, characteristics of a good vision, and some ideas on forming a vision.

What Is a Vision?

What is a vision, and what characterizes a good vision? One definition of a vision comes from Bert Nanus, a well-known expert on the subject. Nanus defines a vision as a realistic, credible, attractive future for an organization. Let's dissect this definition:
· Realistic: A vision must be based in reality to be meaningful for an organization/team. We need to consider the parameters we live within - such as constraints of budget resources, IT support and potential of team members. At the same time, a vision is also idealistic in that it paints the picture of a better future and shows what we can be if we all work together for a common aspiration.

· Credible: A vision must be believable to be relevant. To whom must a vision be credible? Most importantly, to the employees or members of the organization. If the members of the organization do not find the vision credible, it will not be meaningful or serve a useful purpose. One of the purposes of a vision is to inspire those in the organization to achieve a level of excellence, and to provide purpose and direction for the work of those employees. A vision which is not credible will accomplish neither of these ends.

· Attractive: If a vision is going to inspire and motivate those in the organization, it must be attractive. People must want to be part of this future that's envisioned for the organization.

· Future: A vision is not in the present, it is in the future. In this respect, the image of the leader gazing off into the distance to formulate a vision may not be a bad one. A vision is not where you are now; it's where you want to be in the future.

Potential Benefits of a Good Vision?
Nanus goes on to say that the right vision for an organization - one that is a realistic, credible, attractive future for the organization - can accomplish a number of things:
· It attracts commitment and energizes people. This is one of the primary reasons for having a vision for an organization: its motivational effect. When people can see that the organization is committed to a vision that points to a better future, it generates enthusiasm and increases the commitment of people to work toward achieving that vision.

· It creates meaning in workers' lives. A vision allows people to feel like they are part of a greater whole, and hence provides meaning for their work. The right vision will mean something to everyone in the organization if they can see how what they do contributes to that vision. Consider the difference between the mail services technician who can only say, "I am a machine operator" to the one who can also say, "I'm part of a team committed to becoming a world class provider of mailing services that is comparable to any operation of similar size anywhere in the country." The work is the same, but the context and meaning of the work is different.

· It establishes a standard of excellence. A vision serves a very important function in establishing a standard of excellence. In fact, a good vision is all about excellence. Tom Peters, the author of In Search of Excellence, talks about going into an organization where a number of problems existed. When he attempted to get the organization's leadership to address the problems, he got the defensive response, "But we're no worse than anyone else!" Peters cites this sarcastically as a great vision for an organization: "Acme Widgets: We're No Worse Than Anyone Else!" A vision so characterized by lack of a striving for excellence would not motivate or excite anyone about that organization. The standard of excellence also can serve as a continuing goal and stimulate quality improvement programs, as well as providing a measure of the worth of the organization.

· It bridges the present and the future. The right vision takes the organization out of the present, and focuses it on the future. It's easy to get caught up in the crises of the day, and to lose sight of where you were heading. A good vision can orient you on the future, and provide positive direction.
How Do We Develop a Vision?

So how can managers define the right outcomes, set a vision and get everybody on the team on the same page? The 360-degree approach is one wise strategy. Find out where your boss and the senior management want the organization to go, and then determine how your team can help them get there. Coordinate with your peers and find ways to partner. Solicit participation from your team members - their participation leads to their buy-in and better quality decisions.

Great managers are aware of the concept of "stakeholder symmetry". Stakeholder symmetry recognizes that an organization has multiple stakeholders (e.g. investors, customers, employees, and community). The organization - and your team - should try to add value to each stakeholder, and maintain a reasonable balance between their competing interests.

When developing the Vision don't forget to answer the "Why" question. The Vision will address "Where" the organization is heading - but we also need to explain the benefits of why we are pursuing that future state. I agree with Friedrich Nietzsche when he said "Given a big enough why, people can bear almost any how."

The final outcome for your team should include a Vision or Mission Statement that helps inspire your team to strive for excellence. Following is a sample Vision Statement of the Print & Mail Services team at my company:


Our vision is to be a "world class" provider of Printing and Mailing products and services. We desire to be recognized as a premier service provider that is comparable to any operation of similar size anywhere in the country.

Our purpose is to provide timely, high quality products and services at a cost equal to or lower than any other potential provider. We desire to achieve a consistently high level of customer satisfaction, and to maintain a working environment that dignifies and motivates our staff.

Developing a Vision Statement does not end our leadership responsibility as Warren Bennis emphasizes by saying "Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." Here are a few tips to help with the translation of the vision into reality: Supplement the Vision Statement with annual and quarterly goals, and several performance metrics covering all important areas of performance (e.g. cost, timeliness, quality, customer satisfaction, efficiency, safety). Review progress on a monthly basis, discuss results with your team, and celebrate improvements and the reaching of goals. The outcome will be a highly motivated team working together for common purposes.

Here is a final quote of mine: "You can choose to be mediocre, or you can choose to strive for excellence the choice is yours." Good luck as you and your team intentionally strives for excellence!

Wes Friesen, MBA, CMDSM, MDC, EMCM, MCOM, CBA, CBF, ICP, CCM, CMA, CM, CFM, APP, PHR manages multiple departments for a utility based in the Northwest. Wes also teaches university classes and is a featured speaker at national Conferences like MAILCOM, National Postal Forum, NACUMS, and other regional and local events. Check out his personal web-site for free information ( He can be contacted at