10 Characteristics of a compelling vision

A compelling vision is essential in for leading in turbulent times. The fast pace world of today demands rapid decision making and independent action. You can no longer have teams checking in with an executive whenever a decision needs to be made.

A compelling vision provides the “north star” by which teams can navigate in uncertain times. When the sea is crashing all around. And the dark of night sets in… A north star by which to steer the ship is a matter of life or death.

Vision is essential part of great leadership.

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

— Jack Welch, Former Chairman, General Electric

Vision is a much broader concept then the stodgy vision statements you find on the walls a corporate head office. Let’s be clear, a vision statement is not vision. At best it’s a way to communicate vision. 

Ask any organisation to tell you their vision and the response you’re most likely to get is a corporate one liner slogan. These one liners usually are something along the lines of “one company, one vision” or “we strive to be the number one [insert your industry, product or organisation name here] in the world” or “we aim to provide world class [place your industry, product or organisation name here] service to our customers”. You get the idea.

climb the mountain

The problem with these vision slogans is that they fail to achieve the aim of a vision, which is to inspire, challenge and provide direction. It’s not enough to say “climb the mountain. People need to understand which mountain to climb. They also need to know why the mountain is worth climbing in the first place.

The power of a compelling vision

A compelling vision is a much broader and deeper concept than what can be communicated in a simple vision statement. A compelling vision is the artful combination of ideas that express the following:

  • The organisation’s purpose and reason for existence.
  • The organisation’s core values, who they are and what they’re striving to become.
  • The organisation’s value proposition, what makes them unique, what they are good at and why it matters.
  • The organisation’s strategic intent, goal and future aspirations.

A compelling vision provides the clarity of direction needed to lead us into the future.

  • A compelling vision provides direction and helps the organisation prepare for the future.
  • A compelling vision provides guidance for decision-making.
  • A compelling vision shapes the organisation’s strategy.
  • A compelling vision guides the types of people you hire and promote.
  • A compelling vision defines what you will and what you will not do.
  • A compelling vision helps set priorities and guides planning.
  • A compelling vision aligns people and activities across the organisation.
  • A compelling vision provides purpose and a source of inspiration.
  • A compelling vision reflects an organisation’s core values and beliefs.
  • A compelling vision empowers people and helps focus their efforts.
  • A compelling vision brings change and hope for the future.

Not all visions are created equal. You don’t get the benefits of a vision with a simple vision statement. These benefits are only experience as if you have a compelling vision.

What makes a vision compelling?

turn to clear vision

Most visions suck! They’re boring, they re-enforce the status quo, they’re full of corporate jargon, bureaucratic mambo jumbo and far too bland to drive any real change.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

If a leader is to inspire and enlist others to their cause, they need a compelling vision. 

This raises the question, “What makes a vision compelling?” 

Listed below are the 10 characteristics that make a vision compelling. If you take into consideration these 10 characteristics you’ll end up creating a compelling vision. They’ll prevent you from creating a crappy vision. A crappy vision is one that’s vague, lacks ambition, void of meaning and one that tries to be all things to all people

1. A compelling vision is future focused

A compelling vision answers the question “what will our business look like in 5 to 10 years time?” It describes the organisation’s desired future. A compelling vision makes your direction clear. It provide a vivid picture of what you desire things to be look like in 5 − 10 years time. A compelling vision describes the “big picture”. It makes clear the “north star” by which everyone will navigate. It sets the context for action.

2. A compelling vision is directional 

A compelling vision provides direction. Its makes clear where the organisation is going. This means a compelling vision must be specific enough to shape decision-making and appropriately broad to allow for innovative strategies in support of achieving the vision. This is beast accomplished by making clear the principles and guardrails that will guide you on your journey into the future.

3. A compelling vision is clear

One of the aims of a compelling vision is to provide guidance for decision-making and independent action. Therefore, it’s important for a vision be clearly articulated and easily understood. The vision must clarify focus, direction and constraints, to ensure that scare resources are focused on the most strategic initiatives. A vision that is clear enables the allocation of scare resources. Clarity allows individuals across the organisation to have a shared sense of what’s important and what’s not, to ensure that they are free to act within those constraints.

4. A compelling vision is relevant

A compelling vision is grounded in and is an extension of the organisation’s past. A compelling vision doesn’t exists in a vacuum. It exists within a current reality. To be compelling it must be relevant to the context in which the organisation exists. A compelling vision is relevant for the organisation and the time in which it exists. It must make clear the organisations response to the challenges of the day. A compelling vision is a good fit with the organisation’s history, current reality, culture and values. It is the golden thread that connects the past to the desired future. Relevance is what gives a compelling vision credibility.

5. A compelling vision is purposeful

An effective vision provides a sense of purpose for the organisation and its people. A purpose more meaningful than simply getting bigger or beating the competition. Purpose is about why we exist and why anyone should care. Vision connects people to a meaningful purpose, to something bigger than themselves. As Steve Jobs said, “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?

6. A compelling vision is values based

A compelling vision connects people to the organisation’s core values. Values are the beliefs or ideals that the organisation shares about what’s good or bad behaviour. Values influence the behaviour and attitude of people. Which are critical as it’s the behaviour and attitudes of people which shapes today and gives rise to tomorrow. As such values are deeply intertwined with an organisation’s vision. A compelling vision demands that a set of values and beliefs become a lived experience if the vision has any chance of being realised.

7. A compelling vision is challenging

A compelling vision challenges us. It’s pushed us forward. It’s an invitation to greatness. A compelling must stretch us to become more. It must set a high standard. It represent a future beyond what’s possible today. It’s the highest level goal that challenges us to grow and change if it’s to become reality.

8. A compelling vision is unique 

A compelling vision reflects what’s unique about your organisation. It makes clear what makes us different. A compelling vision is unique. It declares what makes the organisation different and and why that matters. This is important as it helps leader decide what activities your should or should not be doing. A compelling vision makes clear what market position the organisation it will occupy.

9. A compelling vision is vivid

A compelling vision provides a vivid description of what the organisation will be like in the future. It describes the future in a way that’s easy to imagine and see in the mind’s eye. It answers questions like, “what would it feel like to work in this kind of organisation?”, “what would it be like for customers to engage with this kind of organisation?” And “what would the press write about this kind of organisation?”.

10. A compelling vision is inspiring

A compelling vision inspires people to commit to a cause. A compelling vision captures the hearts and minds of people. A compelling vision is inspiring when it stops you in your tracks, grabs your heart and causes you to pay attention. It moves you emotionally. It stirs within you a desire to enrol in the pursuit of a cause bigger that yourself.

Your turn

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision; you can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

Theodore M. Hesburgh, President, Notre Dam

Crafting a compelling vision is a uniquely challenging leadership task. Sadly, over the years the concept of vision has been watered down to a slogan and a simple statement. But, without a compelling vision:

  • Leaders will find it difficult to navigate todays rapidly changing times.
  • Leaders will find it difficult to inspire and recruit talented individuals to their cause.
  • Leaders will find if difficult to empower talented individuals to initiate and drive change

When you’re next challenged to craft a vision. Use the 10 characteristics of a compelling vision to guide and assess the quality of your vision.

If you already have a vision assess the quality of your against these 10 characteristics. Then ask yourself:

  • Do you have a compelling vision?
  • What changes do you need to make to ensure your vision is more compelling