Clarity of Vision

To create something that can change the world, you need a place to begin and a vision to share

With amazing displays of discipline through unified movement in formation and shocking catches of bayonet-tipped 1903 Springfield Rifles, the U.S. Army Drill Team performs a drill exhibition, April 24, 2018, in San Antonio, Texas, in front of hundreds of onlookers. (U.S. Army photo by Joshua Ford)
With amazing displays of discipline through unified movement in formation and shocking catches of bayonet-tipped 1903 Springfield Rifles, the U.S. Army Drill Team performs a drill exhibition, April 24, 2018, in San Antonio, Texas, in front of hundreds of onlookers. (U.S. Army photo by Joshua Ford)
By Scott Mann

I once worked with a military unit in Afghanistan that operated as if everyone was doing their own thing.

Nobody could really come together and get the collective mission done. As we started to peel the onion back and look at the problem, we realized that the leader of that Special Forces organization didn’t really have a vision. And if he did have one, he hadn’t communicated it to the soldiers who were responsible for executing it to the four corners of that desert realm. 

It was striking because that absence of vision led to about seven or eight months of negative outcomes in a very high-stakes environment. It’s hard to believe that one leader’s vision, or the absence thereof, could have that kind of impact. Since I retired from the military five years ago, I see this problem over and over again. It’s pervasive.

Vision makes or breaks the collective outcomes of an organization in so many ways.

Vision makes or breaks the collective outcomes of an organization in so many ways.

When an individual or an organization is lacking in vision, you already have the current underneath the Earth working against you. Let me explain what I mean.

We live in a world where trust is eroding at an epic rate. According to Gallup, two-thirds of Americans say they don’t trust their neighbors. With that level of trust-erosion, if you don’t have a vision in place to unify people, they will withdraw to their own in-group. They will circle wagons with people that look like them, believe like them, think like them, and they will oppose anyone who is not like them.

This happens inside your business. This happens in politics. This happens in your community. This happens with your kids in middle school. 

This “in-group” behavior creates massive gaps in trust and organizational cohesion.

Cost goes up. Speed of productivity goes down.

Vision is one of the best tools you have as a leader to bridge those gaps. As a leader, it’s the vision that you portray outward that has the power to unify people around you to grow and achieve that common vision. It’s powerful, but it’s not easy.

Oxford Analytica did a study of leaders from Alexander the Great all the way to Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. They looked at leaders who created movements; leaders who moved people to action. They had two things in common: vision and the ability to articulate that vision to others. 

As a leader, you have an obligation to create vision. Without it, leadership is dead. Without it, movements don’t exist. You can’t bridge the gaps of trust erosion without vision. 

There are a few steps I have found to be critical if you want to define your vision with clarity and relevance.

One, you need sacred space to work on your vision. Mine is out by the fire pit, where I train my coaching students and write. It’s where I do my own story development, work through the trauma of combat, and whatever else I need to do. I counsel transitioning veterans and commercial bank presidents out there. That is my sacred space. That is where I go to tap into the muse, that higher power that helps me do my work and create my vision.

Next, while you’re there in your sacred space, think deeply about what you’re building. What is it that’s going to make a difference in the world?

Bo Eason has a quote that I absolutely love, and I use it all the time. He says, “This is what I’m building. Help me build it.” I used that with Steven Pressfield, who wrote the foreword in my book, Game Changers. Why? Because I said to him, “Steve, this is what I’m building. I want to change the game in how we fight violent extremism. Help me build it.” You know what he said? “Scott, I’ll help you,” and he wrote the foreword.

Think about what you’re building and ask people to help you build it. But what people? Who are the champions that can help you achieve your vision? Who are the people with resources, money, authority, knowledge, access to other influencers who could help you, as the guide, build it. List those people out. Name them. You’ll be surprised by the number of people who will come to your aid and swing the big stick to help you achieve that vision. 

Get clear on your vision, and that’s when people will follow you to the Rooftop.

Scott Mann is a former Green Beret who specialized in unconventional, high-impact missions and relationship building. He is the founder of Rooftop Leadership and appears frequently on CNN, Bloomberg, Fox Business News, and many syndicated radio programs. For more information, visit RooftopLeadership.com

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