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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

11 Jan '12

A vision without a workable strategy is an hallucination

Vision is a funny thing. Lots of people (and leaders) have vision but many cannot deliver on that vision because they cannot develop a realistic strategy that will allow them to accomplish the vision. That is why a vision without a workable strategy is hallucination: an unfulfillable dream, a false hope and an empty promise. 


The problem with this is that vision usually comes from leaders and leaders have followers and staff. It is staff who have to live with the unmet dreams of their leaders and the implications of chasing a vision that they know is a foolish dream. I remember a leader I once worked for who hired a staff member to accomplish a specific task that was vital to the organization. 


As I listened to the vision of that new staff member and his strategy for how he would accomplish it I knew in my heart that "this dog won't hunt" but I was not in a position to do or say much as I was lower in the organizational chain and this was a senior level hire of a senior level executive. Nor was I asked my opinion.


In this case we wasted three years of effort, built a staff we had to eventually let go and lost one million dollars in the process. And I had to pick up the pieces when it fell apart and the staff member was let go. Not only did we pay huge "dumb tax" for the foolish expectations and their results but the senior leader lost great credibility in the eyes of his staff for leading us down a path that resulted in organizational damage and could have been avoided. The Walter Mitty vision of the senior leader was an hallucination.


It is not that this leader (the one who hired) and the staff member (the one who was hired) did not have a strategy to reach their vision. Their problem was that it was not a workable strategy. It was built on false assumptions, optimistic rather than realistic thinking which did not even move the ball down the field a bit but rather went the wrong direction entirely.


How does one avoid moving mistaking vision for dreams or hallucinations? A key is not to develop vision by oneself. Senior leaders should work the visioning process with other senior staff who must help deliver on the vision. That includes a reasonable, workable strategy for how the organization will accomplish its vision. Usually that will mean changes in the current paradigm or strategy that the organization is using. After all, the current paradigm got you to where you are but was not designed to get you to where you need to go next. 


That raises the question of whether the organization and its leaders are ready and willing to refocus their efforts, personnel and resources toward the accomplishing of the new vision? Adopting a new vision without refocusing the organization toward that new vision is also an hallucination. Refocusing may well mean that some staff who were key in the past will need to be let go in order to accomplish the new. It may well mean that other staff will need to be refocused and even organizational structures changed to meet the needs of a new vision and a new day. It is a grave mistake to assume that your current ministry paradigm will get you to a new vision and the next level.


Here are the kinds of questions that need to be addressed if a vision is going to be more than a dream:

  • Is this a realistic vision and is it the right vision for us as an organization?
  • Do we have buy in from senior staff toward a new vision and what is our plan to create a guiding coalition within the organization to move in a new direction?
  • Do we have a realistic and workable plan to accomplish the vision?
  • What are the unintended consequences of moving in our new direction?
  • How do we need to restructure staff, budgets or organizational structure to focus on the new vision?
  • How will we know if we are being successful and how do we monitor progress?

Vision is a wonderful and necessary element of leadership. But, a vision without a workable strategy is simply a hallucination.