Episode: 4 Steps to Generate Clear Vision
Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today we’re going to be talking about something that needs demystification. Is that a word?
Megan: I don’t know, but it definitely describes the feeling.
Michael: Yeah. This stumps a lot of leaders. A lot of them have difficulty getting it right. We’re talking about developing a clear vision for your organization.
Megan: Well, I have to start with some bad news. This is maybe the worst way to start a podcast, but I’m committed to honesty. Your vision for your company is not going to show up in a FedEx envelope at your front porch.
Megan: There will not be an envelope where you just pull out this magical couple of pieces of paper that casts a vision for the future and says all of the important things and you’re just ready to go.
Michael: I think sometimes we think we have to go off and sit in a remote, beautiful place, light some incense and candles, and get in a really passive and receptive mode, and somehow it’s going to be revealed to us.
Megan: No. It looks a lot more like blood, sweat, and tears. It’s hard work. I think the misconception that this is something that will just happen for you or you should just already know it makes us feel bewildered and frustrated and like we’re failing and like we don’t even want to try to create a vision, because either you are a magical visionary leader, one of those people…this comes easily to those people, they already have it, they see the future clearly, they’re going toward it…or you’re not. You probably feel like you’re one of those people it does not come naturally to; therefore, you’re just going to double down and work hard, and maybe the vision will take care of itself.
Michael: Our premise for this show is that everybody can be a visionary leader. In fact, it’s an essential part of being a leader today. You have to be visionary. It’s not easy, but we’re going to make it easier, and we’re going to make it a whole lot easier by bringing Larry into this conversation.
Megan: What a great segue.
Michael: I know. He always makes it easier, because he guides the conversation. So, Larry, welcome.
Megan: Hey, Larry.
Larry Wilson: Hey. Very nice to be here with you. I have a question about mission and vision, because I’ve heard these words a lot over the last two decades probably. What’s the difference between mission and vision? If I have a mission statement, is that the same as vision?
Megan: Sadly, no. This does get really confusing, and it’s important to have clarity about the distinction between these two things. Your mission is about now. It’s not about the future; it’s about now. In some ways, it’s kind of about always who you are. It’s about who you are. It’s about who your customer is. It’s about how you serve them. Your mission is something that’s often pithy that you could fit on a tee shirt or a tagline on your website. It doesn’t change or, if it does, it’s rare that it changes. It’s kind of like the thing that’s always there that you come back to and remember who you are.
Michael: Our mission here at Michael Hyatt & Company, just to give an example, is to help successful but overwhelmed leaders get the focus they need to win at work and succeed at life.
Larry: We actually did put that on a tee shirt.
Michael: We did?
Megan: We did…at our last team training.
Michael: Somehow I missed that.
Larry: I have a tee shirt at home that says, “Win at work and succeed at life.”
Michael: Yeah, and sometimes you would take a portion of the mission statement, like we did there, and turn that into your company motto or slogan. That has become the defining thing of what we do, but that’s not what vision is about. Megan, do you want to talk about vision?
Megan: Your vision is about the future. It’s about where you’re going. It’s really standing in the future and articulating what your business is going to look like in three to five years.
Michael: This is where leaders often miss it, because usually you have a mission. I mean, you got into business; you craft a mission. It doesn’t seem that difficult, but the vision part of it, to get clear on what you want and make a decision about what you want, is much more difficult. The very first business I ever started I started with a very good friend of mine, Robert Wolgemuth. We’re still very good friends to this day. We started a business called Wolgemuth and Hyatt, and it was a publishing business.
That business took off like a rocket. We had this mission that we were going to publish the books other publishers should be publishing but didn’t have the courage or the vision or whatever. We were going to give those books life. Our company took off. We went from zero to about five million in annual sales, which doesn’t seem like that much now, but in the day, that seemed like a huge amount. In the course of about three years, we went to $5 million.
Megan: And that was in the early 80s.
Michael: The problem was we didn’t have a clear vision, so there was no filter on what we did. We did a little bit of this and a little bit of that. We were doing adult trade books, just the normal books you’d buy in a bookstore for adults. We were doing children’s books. We even did a big, giant, complex Bible project, which no publisher our size should have ever gotten involved in, but we had never gotten clear on what it was we wanted to be when the project was done or when the book company was finally built. As a result of that, we ended up going essentially bankrupt. I think it really traces back to a lack of vision.
Megan: I’ve never heard you say it that way. That’s so interesting.
Larry: So you knew what you wanted to do: publish good books, but no real idea of where that was going to take you, how you were going to shape the world through that, or what the future would look like.
Michael: We kind of had this idea that we wanted to be successful, we wanted to have impact, and all of that, but the specificity of the vision just wasn’t there. If we had had that, it would have guided our decision-making. It would have guided the opportunities we said yes to and those we said no to, but we really didn’t have that. It would have guided the relationships we got into, and as it turns out, it was getting into a very bad distribution relationship that was our undoing.
Megan: So you knew why you existed, but you didn’t know where you were going.
Michael: That’s it. Before we go too much farther, we have a resource that I think is going to be helpful to you guys as you think about issues of vision and mission here at the start of the year. It’s called 3 Strategic Pitfalls to Avoid in 2020, and it’s designed to help you avoid a major misstep this year. You can get it free right now at leadto.win/pitfalls.
Larry: Very good, Michael. We’ll put a link in the show notes to this episode as well so you can grab it. Let’s get to the four steps to clarifying your vision. Step one: set aside the “how.”
Megan: This is big, because so many leaders get hung up right here. They are not even out of the starting gate, and they’re stuck on the how, because this is debilitating if you start thinking about it. Maybe you start letting yourself dream a little bit. You think about the future. You think about some big goals you want to achieve that are going to take longer than a year. You’re thinking about a better future for your customers, your team, yourself.
You intuitively know, because you’ve probably done hard things before, “This is going to be tough,” and then the objections start showing up. You start thinking, “This is going to take too long. It’s going to take way more money than I have now. It’s going to take way more social capital than I have now, way more people.” You’re defeated before you even start because you get stuck in the practical how-to part of making this vision a reality.
Michael: It’s like you shoot yourself in the foot. Before you get started (to mix a metaphor), you short-circuit the entire process, and you stop envisioning because you get stuck on this how. You can’t see a path from where you are to where you want to go, so you start discounting or dialing back the vision. That’s a huge mistake. You have to suspend that how thing. Until you get clear on what, the how is not going to show up.
Megan: This is a really important principle of leadership. For so many leaders, you get hung up in this how, and what you forget are all of the times that came before that that you had a big vision, that you had a big goal, and you had no idea how you were going to accomplish it, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the resources start showing up.
If we look back on our lives, that has happened time and time and time again. If you think about when you first became an adult and you weren’t sure how you were going to pay for your apartment rent, and then somehow, 10 years later, you’ve bought a house. That’s the same in business. It’s the same in our personal lives. The resources show up, just kind of one thing after the other, if we just keep going.
Michael: That’s why you have to stay focused on clarity, getting clarity. If you get clear, the how comes after that. So, getting clear and just giving yourself the space to do that. If you’re leading the conversation with your team about vision and they want to run to the how or somebody raises an objection and says, “Hey, there’s no way we can do that; we don’t have the capital” or “We don’t know anybody who would know how to do that” or “We don’t have any experience in that,” or whatever…
Those discussions are important. I’m not discounting those. You’re going to eventually have to figure out how, but not initially. You have to get clear on what. So you have to get those people to suspend that conversation for now for the sake of clarity. The most important thing at the get-go is to focus on the clarity, so you have to set aside the how.
Larry: I’ve heard a question used in this context. I want to get your reaction to it. I’ve heard people advise you to ask this question of yourself: “What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?” Do you think that’s a helpful question or is that maybe too much?
Michael: No, I think it’s good. Anything that’ll open up possibility is helpful. So many things conspire in our lives to shut down possibility. For example, when I went through that business failure I was just talking about, for a long time it was very difficult for me to think about being in business for myself, because I thought, “Well, yeah, I have experience with that. It didn’t turn out so well, so maybe I just need to take a job somewhere.” It shut down possibility.
Anything that opens up possibility… Let’s be honest. The reason most people don’t try big things, the reason people don’t set goals in their discomfort zone, the reason people don’t come up with big hairy audacious goals is because they’re afraid of failure. So if you can take that off the table for the sake of a mental exercise, it’s extremely helpful. Do you agree, Megan?
Megan: I totally agree. I actually think this is a discipline, that you have to decide on the front end, “I’m just going to stand in this space.” If you don’t make that decision at the beginning, you’ll naturally go to all of the ways it might not work out, and you’ll get in your own way. So, if you think about it like a discipline… You have to hold your feet to the fire and say in your head, “Nope. I’m not going there; that’s how. I’m not going there; that’s how. I’ll do it later.” That can really help you.
Michael: There’s a version of this I’ve heard you ask, and that is, “What would I do if I were brave?”
Megan: Yeah, absolutely.
Michael: That’s a little bit more positive way to do it. “If I had the courage, what is it that I would attempt?”
Megan: Almost without fail, I would say, when I’ve done this (and I think you would agree), we’re still not dreaming big enough. I don’t mean that in some kind of woo-woo, fluffy way. I just mean that our tendency even when we are disciplined about this, even when we work hard to be in the future (which we’re going to talk about in a minute) without getting stuck in the how, we still are going to be smaller than what we probably have the real potential to be.
Michael: You and I had this exact experience yesterday. Do you remember?
Megan: We did. Yes. We were talking about our office building. We have a beautiful office space that we renovated a couple of years ago. It’s truly stunning. It feels like a boutique hotel. It’s kind of a coworking space with meeting rooms and all that. You’ve probably seen the tour. If not, I think we did a whole episode on this.
Larry: We did. We can put a link to that.
Megan: You can see it, and you’ll see when you see it it’s really special. However, our teams are bigger now than what we have space for in one of our meeting rooms. We have a large conference room, and we now have one of our teams that has 13 people on it. In fact, yesterday they did a meeting with another one of our teams, and there were over 20 people in that room. This is a conference table that has room, max, for 12 people, so we’ve outgrown it.
We’re going to have to totally redo that room, just temporarily, while we figure out what’s next for our space needs. The point is that two years ago, when we renovated this space, we were like, “Oh, that’s really pushing the limits. That’s a stretch. I’m not sure we’re really going to need that much space. It’s probably more space than we need, but in faith we’re just going to go out on it.” Well, it is about…
Michael: Thirty percent of what we need.
Megan: Thirty percent of what we need, and now we’re in a situation where we are going to need a much bigger office space, and we’re probably 18 to 24 months from having that being a place where it’s ready to go, so it’s going to be tough.
Michael: I hate to say it, but it would have been a lot cheaper and a lot less hassle if we’d dreamed bigger on the front end.
Megan: Right. But what I’m saying is at the time, that was as big as… We were pushing ourselves to dream that big.
Larry: Step one in generating a clear vision: set aside the how. In other words, give yourself permission to dream a little bit and ask the questions that will inspire your thinking about the future. Let’s get to step two: stand in the future.
Michael: This is a way to position yourself mentally using your imagination. It’s a great gift God has given us to be able to imagine the future, and unfortunately, most of us use this for a negative outcome. It’s called worry. We imagine all of the worst things that can happen, and we obsess about that. We can get very creative about that. It can keep us awake at night, and all the rest.
Megan: Are you talking to me directly right now?
Michael: I may or may not be.
Megan: My number-one strength is futuristic, and that definitely has a great part about it and a dark part.
Michael: It’s true for me too, because futuristic is in my top five, and I definitely have that side of it. What we’re really talking about is locating yourself in the future. Maybe it’s one year from now. Maybe it’s five years from now. We typically recommend three years. For most organizations that’s about right. Beyond that it gets too foggy. Too much change is going to happen between now and then for it to be meaningful. One year is probably too short. That’s kind of the realm of goal setting, but when we’re talking about vision, we recommend typically three years.
Locate yourself in the future. Mentally transport yourself to that place and that time. Again, I want to encourage you to activate your imagination and take a good look around. Summon your best creative thinking. What is that better future you want for yourself and your business? In fact, I would say, not just the better future but the bigger, better future. What would your future look like? What does it smell like? What do you see? What could you taste? What do you hear? Just immerse yourself in that future, and use all five senses.
Megan: This is one of those things you will get better at the more you do it. You’ll feel a little goofy when you do it the first time if you haven’t done this before, but after a while, you’ll really become skilled at it, and you’ll be able to go to that place in your mind quickly. What’s amazing is when you do this (and ultimately, we’re going to talk about how this gets distilled down into something you can share), you are doing something your team really can’t do for themselves.
If you have a team, what you come up with at this stage, this dreaming, is going to give meaning and purpose to their day-to-day work. It’s going to inspire them. It’s going to connect them to something bigger, which is a critical part of engagement, which is a critical part of retention. You’re going to change the culture of your company just by cultivating your ability to stand in the future and come back and ultimately tell your team about it.
Larry: Let me ask you a question. What about people who just aren’t so imaginative? They have a real difficulty envisioning the future in that literal way.
Michael: One of the things you can do is compare what you have now to what you want. Sometimes if you can’t get in touch with the imagery you can get in touch with the desire. Like, maybe you want a bigger company or you want more influence or you can envision a suite of benefits you want to make available to your employees or you have a desire for certain products that you know would have an impact in the future on your clients. I think it doesn’t always have to be visual, but it does have to be related to desire. What is it you want? I think everybody can get in touch with what they want.
Larry: Step one for generating a clear vision: set aside the how. Step two: stand in the future. And step three: record what you see.
Megan: This is where you’re putting pen to paper. You want to do this kind of like a brain dump. You’re not starting with the perspective of “I’m writing this finished work.” That is going to be paralyzing. You’re going to want to quit before you even start. The perfectionism is going to get loud really quickly. This is a creative stage. You want to write this down as a series of bullets rather than a narrative, which can feel overwhelming.
Don’t worry about the structure or the grammar. That is all fixable later. The goal is to just get the nuts and bolts of the vision out of your head so you have something to work with. Ultimately, you can refine it, tweak it, edit it, rearrange it, all of those things, but getting the first draft out of your head is the hardest part, so you want to do as little as possible to get in your own way of that.
Michael: One of the things we’re not after is some short, pithy, slogan-esque kind of statement. Sometimes people talk about “What’s your vision statement?” They’ve somehow reduced their vision down to a sentence. That’s not what we’re talking about.
Megan: Where their company is going in the next three years into five words.
Michael: There are people who do that. There are books that advocate that, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. I call this a vision script in my new book The Vision-Driven Leader. It’s something more robust than that. If I’m going to build a building, I need a comprehensive set of blueprints. I don’t want to make this bigger than it is, but I don’t want to make it smaller than it is.
It feels like an incredible burden to have to distill this vision I have for the future…what I envision for my team and what I envision for my products and the sales and the marketing and the impact we’re going to have on the world… To somehow put that into a sentence seems like an overwhelming task. You’d have to get some kind of Madison Avenue copywriter to do that.
But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a three- to four-page document, but it really begins with a list of bullets, as Megan said. Just get it out of your head. You’re going to edit this later, and editing is so much easier than writing or creating.
Megan: And if you’re thinking to yourself, “Man, it would be great if I had a template for that,” in your new book The Vision-Driven Leader, there is a template that will make it really easy to do this and give you a really clear track to run on. That will be out in March, so it’s coming up soon. Keep an eye out. We’ll definitely send emails and talk about it here on the podcast when it’s time.
Another thing you want to keep in mind as you start writing is to write in the present tense. This is a new idea for a lot of us. You would think, if you’re writing about the future, you’re going to write in the future tense, but that’s not so.
Michael: No, you want to write in the present tense as though it were a current reality, because that’s going to help us trick our minds into feeling like we’re more present to it and feeling like it’s more possible.
Megan: It’s also going to help you enroll your team later in a vision when they feel like it’s something they’re on board with that’s already happening.
Larry: It sounds a little bit like talking about yourself in third person. Larry has a question now. Larry would like to know what this sounds like when you write about your company in the present tense.
Megan: Fortunately, it’s not quite that weird.
Michael: Here’s an example: “Our business generates $1 million a year in net income,” not “Our business will generate $1 million a year in net income.” It sounds a little bit more believable to write it in the present tense than something that’s still out there. Here’s another one: “We have 10,000 names on our mailing list,” not, “We’ll build a mailing list to 10,000 names.” Or “Our membership site generates $20,000 a month in recurring revenue,” not “Our membership site will generate $20,000 a month in recurring revenue.”
Just take it by faith. Write it in the present tense. Again, it’s going to feel more real, it’s going to feel more doable, and you’re going to believe it. You’re going to be more likely to believe it if it’s in the present tense than if it’s in the future.
Larry: It actually feels like it’s reality.
Michael: It does, and you want to make it as real as you can, because guess what: it’s not real, and it’s out there in the future. You have to bring that future into the present, and one of the ways we do that is with language.
Larry: Well, let’s review the steps so far to generating a clear vision. Step one: set aside the how. Step two: stand in the future. Step three: record what you see. That brings us to step four: let it simmer.
Michael: I think this is good advice for just about everything in life. Just let it simmer. Usually your best work is not the first pass at it. Sometimes you just have to kind of crockpot it. Let it simmer. Let it marinate. Give some space between your initial thinking and the time when you revise it. Things get better when that happens.
In a real sense, the vision is never done. I wrote the initial vision for Michael Hyatt & Company probably seven years ago, but every year we revise it. As we’re recording this, we’re about to do our annual team meeting, and we’re about to recite our vision script for the entire team, all of our employees, at our annual team meeting, and there are a couple of tweaks we’ve made to it. Nothing substantial this year, but the point is it’s a work in process.
Megan: Hopefully, this helps you, if you’re doing this for the first time, to not feel the burden of perfectionism, because you don’t have to nail it 100 percent the first time. You just have to see as far as you can. You have to do the best you can and then know with certainty that you will revise it every year.
We did a pretty big revision to ours last year. That was something we couldn’t have seen in the original version, and that’s fine. If you’re doing business right, you ought to be evolving. There’s no way the vision stays exactly the same year to year. That’s just fine, and hopefully that frees you up to just write it and know that you can always come back and revise it later.
Michael: As you’re moving through the present into the future, you’re getting closer to the object you’re trying to envision, so your vision is going to, by necessity, become clearer with each passing year, but there will be new aspects of it that aren’t as clear, so, again, it’s a revolving work of art.
I think we also need to say that whenever you come up with a vision, you can’t put yourself in the posture of Moses coming down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments. It’s not that permanent, it’s not that clear, and unlike Moses, you need the input of other humans. So you have to throw this back to your team and sort of position it as, “This is wet cement. It’s preliminary. I need your feedback to make it better, and collectively, we need to make this ours.”
Megan: To be clear, what you don’t mean by that… You’re not letting your entire team have input on the vision. It’s not writing by committee. You’re inviting key stakeholders in. Usually, if you have an executive team or a leadership team or a partner, somebody or somebodies like that, you’re going to invite those people into the conversation, but you’re not really ceding your authority. You’re not saying, “You guys make this your own,” but you do want to hear feedback and then incorporate it with wisdom as you look toward finalizing it.
Larry: That’s really the same as any good writing process. I think the myth is that writers go off into a cabin in Vermont and produce these masterpieces, but actually, there’s a lot of input by editors and other people into the writing process.
Michael: Totally. I was once in a company where the CEO came in and said to the executive team, “We need a vision. Our stockholders expect us to have a vision, but it’s not really my thing, so I’m going to appoint Michael to be in charge of this, but I want you guys to come up with a vision, and then once you get it, come share it with me.” Well, it doesn’t really work that way. You can’t delegate the vision thing to somebody else. It needed to start with him, and then we could give input and we could end up shaping it together, but he couldn’t just abdicate, and neither can you.
Larry: Well, today we’ve learned that any leader can generate a clear vision for the future by using these four steps. Step one: set aside the how. Step two: stand in the future. Step three: record what you see. Step four: let it simmer. Any final thoughts today?
Megan: I think this is really doable. You may be thinking right now or you may have at least thought in the past, “Gosh, this seems so overwhelming. Maybe I’m one of those people for whom this is not my thing.” But this is actually a doable thing. This is something you have inside of you already, and the task is really to get it out of your head and onto paper where you can do something with it.
If you kind of demystify it; if you understand there are some simple steps to follow; if you give yourself permission that it doesn’t have to be perfect; if you give yourself permission that it’s a little bit challenging, that it’s okay if it’s hard, that it doesn’t mean anything bad about you as a leader if it’s challenging, you’re going to get there, and your company is going to be so much better for it, not to mention your future.
Michael: One of the common complaints I hear from our BusinessAccelerator coaching clients is they’re frustrated because they see with their teams a lack of alignment. There’s a lot of sideways energy. They have a hard time on execution. The other thing I see is they sometimes complain about a lack of engagement. Their employees seem to be not engaged. They don’t really buy into the mission and all that. All that can be cured, or at least as a prerequisite, there has to be a vision. You can’t get alignment unless there’s something to align toward or align with.
Vision is that thing you align the team with. It’s something that gives direction to execution and to the work of today. It’s also the thing that produces engagement. If people don’t know what they’re building and why they’re building and where this whole thing is going, it’s very difficult for them to engage. Vision can cure all that. So, this is not some nice thing that would be a great ornament to hang on your business if you can get it. No, this is an essential. This is fundamental. It’s foundational. You have to create a vision.
Larry: Well, thank you both for sharing these insights, and I want to mention again for our listeners that as you’re thinking about foundational things here near the start of 2020, be sure to get this free resource Michael has created: 3 Strategic Pitfalls to Avoid in 2020. That’s available right now at leadto.win/pitfalls.
Michael: Larry, thanks, and thank you all for being with us today. We’ll see you right here next week. Until then, lead to win.