How Leaders Use Vision to Stay Ahead of the Game
A good leader, while managing in the present, is always looking ahead to see what threats are just over the horizon, and what opportunities are there, as well. Vision is a kind of distant, early-warning radar that is set two steps into the future, like a chess player anticipating her response to all the possible moves an opponent may make, and knowing the outcome of the move after that as well.
Good leaders train themselves to keep looking toward the horizon and beyond it, while maintaining a firm linkage to the present and to reality.
Becoming a visionary
A vision requires a visionary, someone who can see what may become possible if only one or two things fall into place. The visionary, who is usually — but not always — the leader, has to look at existing events for his or her group and be able to say, “We can do a lot better and a lot different if X and Y can be made to happen.”
Here’s a look at two visionaries:
- Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, and Andrew Grove had the vision to create a computer on a chip — the microprocessor. But they were able to have that vision only because an entire sequence of events had already taken place that suggested to them that their vision was doable.
First, the transistor had to be invented. Then, the integrated circuit, which placed a number of transistors together onto a single piece of silicon, came along. Then, a number of integrated circuits, each with their own logic, or software, had to be put together. During this time, from 1948, when the transistor was invented, until 1971, when Intel, the company they created, introduced the 4004 microprocessor, thousands of engineers at many companies had to work out the processes of continually shrinking the size of each transistor, so that more and more of them could be placed into an ever smaller space. Fulfilling the vision of creating a microprocessor was impossible until all the previous steps had taken place.
But Moore, who was the visionary in the group, saw that it could be done. He had plotted the density of transistors onto silicon chips and had developed something that is now known as “Moore’s Law,” which states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 18 months. Moore figured, rightly, that at a certain point in the doubling, the number of circuits that could be made would be large enough to duplicate the functions of a hard-wired computer memory.
- Mel Farr, a running back for the Detroit Lions during the 1980s, had a vision of becoming a successful black businessman after he retired from football. Because the Lions are owned by William Clay Ford, a descendant of Henry Ford and an executive of the Ford Motor Company, and because Detroit is the Motor City, Farr thought that the best way to success was through a car dealership. But he discovered that there were few African-American–owned dealerships at the time. A combination of lack of capital and a general reluctance to sell cars in black neighborhoods had made it difficult for African-American entrepreneurs to move into auto retailing.
Farr examined the problem and determined that the poor credit histories of his customers, perhaps more than anything, were the greatest deterrent to their owning new cars. So he began with used cars, and instituted a tough repossession policy on people who missed their car payments. At the same time, he designed programs to help customers budget their money better, so that there would be less likelihood that they would miss a payment. Farr’s business grew steadily, and he acquired a Ford dealership in 1975, eventually increasing his company to a chain of 11 dealerships.
Farr’s vision from the beginning was not simply to become successful but to become involved in auto sales. His connections and star status with the Detroit Lions ensured that he would get the chance, and then he made the most of the opportunity after he had it.
Leaders benchmark everything
Keeping ahead of the competition also entails keeping up with them. Don’t be afraid to admit that someone else is doing something better than you are and
If your Sunday school attendance is down, for example, and you have taken on the role of principal of the school, contact your synod or diocese or synagogue council and find out where Sunday school attendance is up, and then go off and learn what they’re doing that you’re not.
This process is called benchmarking, because it comes from the idea that the best practices are a benchmark for everyone to emulate. But when you benchmark, don’t confine your imagination just to Sunday schools. Think about other kinds of programs where attendance is vital, and where people have worked hard to improve it, for example.
You may come up with something like a computer user group, or you may even want to take a look at a company whose sales have suddenly begun to improve by double-digit amounts. What are they doing right? Can you use their methods? These questions are the ones you should be asking yourself.
to take advantage of that person’s example.
As a leader, you’re responsible for having a complete knowledge not only of your own group’s resources but of the widest possible resources available. Gordon Moore, from Intel, was building on the work of thousands of others, and so should you. If you’re running a community group, you should make it your business to find out which other groups — anywhere — are running programs similar to yours, and you should learn from the best.