George Ambler

Helping Leaders Grow


10 Characteristics of an Effective Vision

An effective vision is critical during the turbulent times of today. Turbulent times require fast and effective action and this means people cannot spend time checking with an executive every time a critical decision needs to be made. Effective vision provides the “north star” by which we can navigate in times of uncertainty. When the sea is crashing all around and the dark of night sets in, having a north star by which to steer the ship is a matter of life or death.

A Vision Statement Does Not a Vision Make!

A vision is a much broader concept than the stodgy vision statements one tends to find on the walls of some corporate head office. A vision statement is not a vision. It’s just one of many ways that we can use to express a vision.

Ask an organisation what is their vision is and the response you will get is a one liner vision statement that sounds like a corporate slogan. These one liners usually sounds something like “one company, one vision” or “to be the number one [place your industry, product or organisation name here] in the world” or “to provide world class [place your industry, product or organisation name here]” I think you get the idea.

The problem with these one liner vision statements is that they fail to fulfill the purpose of a vision, which is to provide direction. It’s not enough to say “climb the mountain” people need to understand which mountain and why the mountain is worth climbing?

An effective vision is much broader than a vision statement stuck up somewhere on the corporate head office wall. Effective visions are a combination of ideas that express the following:

  • The organisation’s purpose, their reason for existence.
  • The organisation’s core values, who they are and striving to become.
  • The organisation’s value proposition, what makes them unique, what they are good at and why it matters.
  • The organisation’s strategic intent, a stretch goal and future aspirations.

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” – Theodore Hesburgh

The Benefits of an Effective Vision

A vision provides direction and road map into the future, it describes the type of organisations that you want to become and how it’s unique, it creates purpose and identity.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Some benefits of effective visions are as follows:

  • Vision provides direction and helps the organisation prepare for the future.
  • Vision provides guidance for decision-making.
  • Vision shapes the organisation’s strategy.
  • Vision guides the types of people you hire and promote.
  • Vision defines what you will and what you will not do.
  • Vision helps set priorities and guides planning.
  • Vision aligns people and activities across the organisation.
  • Vision provides purpose and a source of inspiration.
  • Vision reflects an organisation’s core values and beliefs.
  • Vision empowers people and helps focus their efforts.
  • Vision brings change and hope for the future.

Not all visions are created equal. We do not gain the above benefits simply because we have a vision statement on our wall. These benefits are only gained if our vision is effective.

What Makes an Effective Vision?

Most visions suck. They’re boring, they reenforce the status quo, full of corporate jargon, bureaucratic mambo jumbo and far too bland to drive any real change.

If a leader is to inspire and enlist others to their cause, they need an effective vision. This then raises the question, “What makes an effective vision?” The following characteristics will help you develop a vision that is meaningful and compelling, it will help you avoid ending up with a vision that sucks. That is a vision that is vague, lacks ambition, tries to be all things to all people and void of meaning. Use these characteristics to help you evaluate your current vision and if necessary to guide you in creating a new one.

  1. Future Focused: An effective vision answers the question “what will our business look like in 5 to 10 years time?”  It describes the organisation’s desired future. A vision makes clear the organisation’s direction, providing a clear picture of what the business will look like in 5 − 10 years time. Vision provides the “big picture”. Vision provides the “north star” by which everyone in the organisation navigates. It sets the context for action.
  2. Directional: An effective vision provides direction and makes clear where the organisation is going. This means that a vision needs to be specific enough to shape decision-making and appropriately broad to allow innovative strategies for realizing the vision.
  3. Clear: An effective vision provides guidance for decision-making and independent action. This requires the vision to be clearly articulated and easily understood. The vision must clarify focus, direction and constraints, to ensure that scare resources are focused on the most strategic initiatives. Vision that is clear enables effective allocation of scare resources. Clarity allows individuals across the organisation to have a shared sense of what’s important and what’s not, to ensure that they are free to act within those constraints.
  4. Relevant: An effective vision is grounded in and an extension of the organisation’s past. Visions don’t exists in a vacuum. They exist within the current reality and talks to the context in which the organisation exists. The vision must be  relevant to the organisation and the times, it reflects the organisations response to the challenges of the day. An effective vision is a good fit with the organisation’s history, current reality, culture and values. An effective vision connects what has happened in the past to the desired future this gives the vision credibility.
  5. Purpose-Driven: An effective vision provides a larger sense of purpose for the organisation and it’s people. That purpose must be more meaningful than getting bigger or beating the competition. Purpose is about why we exist and why anyone should care. Vision connects people to a meaningful purpose, allowing them to feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves. As Steve Jobs said, “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?
  6. Values Based: An effective vision connects people to the oganisation’s core values. Values are the beliefs or ideals that the organisation shares about what’s good or bad. They influence the behaviour and attitude of people. Given this values are deeply connected to an organisation’s vision. Vision implies a set of values and beliefs that are required to support who organisations need to become to execute the vision.
  7. Challenging: An effective vision challenges us, it’s an invitation to greatness. A vision is a goal that should challenge us, stretch us and set a high standard for the organisation. Effective visions represent a future that is beyond what is possible today or what we think possible tomorrow. It is the highest level goal that unites and challenges an organisation.
  8. Unique: An effective vision reflects what’s unique about the organisation, it recognizes what makes it different. A vision is unique when it declares what makes the organisation stand out and why it matters. Vision must make clear the activities that the organisation will and will not pursue, the capabilities to be developed and the market position it will occupy.
  9. Vivid: An effective vision provides a vivid mental image of what the organisation will be like in the future. Well crafted visions describe the future in a way that is easy to imagine and to picture in the mind’s eye. What would it feel like to work in the future organisation? What would it be like for customers who engage with this organisation?
  10. Inspiring: An effective vision engages and inspires people to commit to a cause. Vision appeals to the hearts and minds of people. Vision is inspiring when it captures the hearts of people. Vision is inspiring when it stops you in your tracks, grabs your heart and causes you to pay attention. An effective vision moves you emotionally, creating a desire to sign up to the cause.

Review your company vision, is it effective?

  • Does your vision exhibit the characteristics of an effective vision as described above?
  • What changes do you need to make to ensure your vision is effective?

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” – Jack Welch, Former Chairman, General Electric


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  1. I had a rather simple vision and thus vision statement when I trained my infantry platoon to be deployed to Afghanistan: to create the world’s best infantry platoon.

    Clear, simple, inspiring and future focused. But certainly not measurable.

    I used the vision statement during evaluations: I was not interested in wether or not we were actually the best in the world. I was interested in my soldiers behaving as they were a part of the world’s best infantry platoon. That they had given their all during exercises, that they fought as a part of the team an so on.

    The vision became the north star by wich we steered towards. In training as well as in combat.

  2. Guest

    Nice article, but how about a few examples of what you think meets the mark?

  3. Scott Hunter

    Great pointers for leadership teams, especially start ups
    who are looking to define their vision, mission statements. Well written and
    articulate, points that every leader should emulate to provide the proverbial
    north star to each and every one in the organization.

    A great read.

    Scott Hunter

  4. In my life there have been examples of people who live their lives with passion, generally these are fun people to be around. If the vision and the reality that is motivating a person comes from a gifted leader who has not paid the price to develop solid strong character then it become painful to be around this person. An example of this are gang leaders. To my knowledge there are no school or conferences that have as their goal: “How to be a sucessful gang leader” or “How to leader your gang to be the strongest, meanest, and toughest gang in the city”. The very fact that a person can become the leader of a gang is one of the things that demonstrates that leadership is a gifting. This article gives very good advice on how to strenghten a leadership gifting. The one truth that this article does not address is that no matter how much education, training or mentoring a person gets he can never maintain leadership higher than his gifting and training the leadership gifting does not give a person solid well developed character. What education, training and character building experience give are ways to be a positive, life giving leader with the leadership gifting the person has. One of the problems our nation faces is a leadership vacuum. We have people with high levels of leadership gifting, but there isn’t a strong gifted leader who will step forward and give all leaders a vision they can connect with and then share a vision so all the people with high leadership gifting will become focused on bring emotional, spiritual, financial and social health to our nation so we once again can be a light to all the world. Not out of greed, but out of the joy and excitement of seeing all people move towards an understanding that as we function and live as one healthy organism we will all have better and productive lives.

  5. Ssesanga Richard

    Thanx much t was of great Value

  6. Aziza kapela

    Thanks for good article. Am gain a lot about how to make effective vision. Good job.

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