CEO Coaching: The Vision Thing

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “The Little Prince”[1]

“It sure would help if we knew where we were going!” the chief marketing officer said to me.

I was helping his company with a reorganization project and, unfortunately, the CMO’s boss, the CEO, didn’t buy into “the vision thing,” as he put it.

As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do!” And that’s the problem that ensues if there’s no vision. To make matters worse, many who don’t believe in “the vision thing” also don’t believe in “the strategy thing.” If vision is “where we’re going,” strategy is “what we’re going to do to achieve our vision.” Lack of insight into either is deadly. But why?

Alignment. If any road will get you there, different people and different departments will take different roads. They’ll focus on different customers. They’ll develop different products and services. They’ll sell in different fashions. They’ll spend their budget on opposing ideas.

My wife and I have taken several lengthy trips with our travel trailer and some mornings have woken up with different ideas about where we were going and what road to take. Those were tough mornings!

You don’t have to smoke weed or peyote to find a vision. You can create it alone, or you can involve others to help think creatively about options and help you choose.

My experience working as an advisor to CEOs for 15 years tells me that many who don’t have documented vision are either just ill-informed on how to develop one or are uncomfortable taking a stand when the future is unknowable. Only a fool would intentionally cause the misalignment I described above! Have someone talk this through with you and get over the fact that you cannot apply certainty to the future.


[1] This quote is in Reed Hastings’ book, “No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention.” While Netflix has recently taken a big tumble, if you lead a team, I highly recommend it to stretch your thinking about what management and culture can be.

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