Leadership and Visioning


Where there is no vision, the people perish. — Proverbs 29:18

Visioning for leadership may be defined as the process of forming a mental image in order to set goals, make plans, and solve problems that guide the organization into the future. Thus, it is the first step in goal setting. While mission statements guide the organization in its day-to-day operations, visions provide a sense of direction for the long term — the means to the future.

Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus (2007) wrote:

“Leaders articulate and define what has previously remained implicit or unsaid; then they invent images, metaphors, and models that provide a focus for new attention. By so doing, they consolidate or challenge prevailing wisdom. In short, an essential factor in leadership is the capacity to influence and organize meaning for the members of the organization.”

“Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing. The difference may be summarized as activities of vision and judgment—effectiveness verses activities of mastering routine—efficiency.”

In addition, Bennis and Nanus describe leaders as “creating dangerously” in that they change the basic metabolism of the organization. Tom Peters (1988) wrote that leaders “must create new worlds. And then destroy them; and then create anew.” While visions may pose risks to the organization, they provide a path that allows an organization to survive in a very complex world.

What is interesting is that Peters' also writes that visions are aesthetic and moral—as well as strategically sound. Which would sort of knock Hitler's quest of the world as being a vision. In addition, visions that are merely proclaimed or not lived convincingly are nothing more than mockeries of the process.

Some visions almost sound like value statements. And it's no wonder why since they come from within us. One that follows this path is Johnson & Johnson's vision they call their Credo. Their credo saved them during their Tylenol crisis as it gave them specific guidelines to follow. Thus, visions can be about change and/or they can be about the way an organization wants to live or operate. Tom Peters further wrote about visions, “They are personal—and group centered. Developing a vision and values is a messy, artistic process. Living it convincingly is a passionate one, beyond any doubt.” Johnson & Johnson is quite passionate about living theirs.

Peters goes further into his explanation of visions by writing:

Creating Visions

The U.S. Army's (1987) goal setting strategy has visioning as the first step:

  1. Visions: what will the organization look like in the future?
  2. Goals: create the framework.
  3. Objectives: create measurable terms.
  4. Tasks: how will the objectives be accomplished?
  5. Timelines: when will they be accomplished?
  6. Follow-up during the actual performance to ensure all the above is being met.

Creating visions are quite often the simple part, with the hard part being the execution—turning the vision into reality. For example, Kennedy's vision of putting a man on the moon was the simple part. The hard part was the actual accomplishment of the vision.

The important part is not really the framework or method used to create a vision, but rather the path one must take after the vision is created. For example, Lee Iacocca's vision pulled Chrysler away from their deathbed, not because Iacocca created the vision, but because they had the guts to walk the vision. Steve Job's vision of Apple being the epicenter of the technology industry held true until IBM entered the PC scene (and this was only after they saw what Apple was doing).

Later, Apple came close to going under, but Jobs held true to his vision when he returned to Apple as no one technology company has had as many innovations as Apple has—it is why they still survive and lead in a very competitive environment.

For more on the visioning process, see Sensemaking and Visualization.

Examples of Vision, Mission, and Value Statements

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success. - explorer Ernest Shackleston in a 1890 job ad for the first Antarctic expedition.


When I'm through... everyone will have one. - Henry Ford on democratizing the automobile


I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. - President Kennedy, May 25, 1961


There's something going on here... something that is changing the world... and this is the epicenter. - Steve Job of Apple Computers during its initial start-up


Quality, hard work, and commitment—the stuff America is made of. Our goal is to be the best. What else is there? If you can find a better car, buy it. - Lee Iacocca when he was chairperson of Chrysler Corporation


2000 stores by the year 2000. - Howard Schultz, of Starbucks Coffee Company


To strengthen the social fabric by continually democratizing home ownership. - Federal National Mortgage Association, Fannie Mae


Exploring the past, illuminating the present and imagining the future - National Museum of Australia


Empower people through great software, anyplace, any time and on any device. - Microsoft's vision


Whirlpool, in its chosen lines of business, will grow with new opportunities and be the leader in an ever-changing global market. We will be driven by our commitment to continuous quality improvement and to exceeding all of our customers' expectations. We will gain competitive advantage through this, and by building on our existing strengths and developing new competencies. We will be market driven, efficient and profitable. Our success will make Whirlpool a company that worldwide customers, employees and other stakeholders can depend on. - Whirlpool's vision


To defend the United States through control and exploitation of air and space. - U.S. Air Force

Next Steps

Next chapter: Sensemaking

Learning Activity Visioning

For more on the visioning process, see Sensemaking and Visualization

Strategies are similar to visions in that they are forward-looking, thus they are related to visions. While tactics are “present” orientated. See Strategy and Tactics.

Main Leadership Menu


Bennis, W., Nanus, B. (2007). Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Collins Business.

Peters, T. (1988). Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution. New York: Harper.

U.S. Army (1987). Leadership and Command at Senior Levels. FM 22-103, June 1987, p. 91.