Vail Valley Voices: What is this vision thing? |

Vail Valley Voices: What is this vision thing?

John Horan-Kates
Vail, CO, Colorado

At the Vail Leadership Institute, we define “vision” as a description of where you want to be in the future, perhaps a 5- to 10-year time frame. It’s a word picture, or a drawing, of what it will look and feel like when you are achieving your dream.

Casting a vision is an essential and extremely valuable leadership principle. Some people think of it as brainstorming, but it really goes well beyond that valuable, albeit more short-term perspective.

In his book “Visionary Leadership,” Burt Nanus defines vision as “a realistic, credible, attractive future for your organization. It is the indispensable tool without which leadership is doomed to failure.”

Matthew Heim, in his essay “Catching the Vision,” claims that “by learning to work from a place of intuitive knowing, we can begin to make wiser decisions.”

Leaders see what others don’t. They look for what is coming next. Stephen Covey uses the expression, “Have the end in mind.” And while visioning is a skill that helps us paint vivid pictures, for it to be significant, it requires having an executable strategy that evolves in relationship with others. Nanus says, “The right vision jump-starts people to move forward.”

Taking bold action is one of those virtues that sets leaders apart. The best action is that which follows a plan. Visionary leaders paint inspiring big pictures of futures worth striving for. They describe a potential worth passing on to future generations.

If your vision is worthy of both your effort and of those you call around you, then it’s good enough to lay out a road map. How will you get there? What will it take? Who needs to join your movement to make it both successful and significant?

And then once you have the plan, remember that you have to work it. Plans always change and evolve. But if you don’t act on the strategies and tactics that you’ve laid out, then what’s the use? You’re just dreaming!

There are various ways to actually create, then implement, your vision. First, picture where you want to be – write it down. Make a vivid image of something worth working toward and then begin to share it, building consensus as you go. But be patient and disciplined, realizing your vision will usually take longer than you think.

Creating a powerful vision by yourself has substantially less meaning than doing it with others. For a vision to be fully realized, leaders must build trust with those around them. They’ve got to invest the time to engage others deeply.

It’s one way leaders develop followers, just as the man from Galilee did. His most called-upon prayer was interpreted uniquely by asdfdsfaJohn Ortberg when he saw God’s vision as, “Make it down here like it is up there.” It’s about the future, but it has action tied to it!

Can you envision where you want to be in five years? What does that look like?

This column has been written in connection with Exploring Potential, a character development program offered in Eagle County high schools. John Horan-Kates is the president of the Vail Leadership Institute in Edwards. He can be reached at 970-926-7800 or

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