CEO vision Charles Pfeffer

For a CEO, creating and communicating a powerful vision provides direction. And when the CEO aligns the organization’s energies and resources to the vision, the future state transforms from abstract to real.  

“Vision” means a future so clear and compellingly attractive that it re-organizes who we are and what we do today. This future is not a prediction. It is a creation. It exists not in some time years hence, but right now, this very moment as a possibility we have spoken into existence. A vision’s power to reorganize who we are and what we do, therefore, depends upon how we speak and listen to each other and how we relate to our word. It is not a merely personal, individual phenomenon. It is an interpersonal exchange of meaning that transforms people’s relationships with each other and with their work. 

A powerful vision inspires energy, commitment, and alignment to a new future, especially when co-created in dialogue with key stakeholders. As a community forms around a vision, it becomes a co-creation rather than the property of the originator. This community of commitment finds ways to evolve and strengthen the vision as they individually and collectively explore its implications for their work and their lives. This co-creative process builds strength into the connections required to act together. People listen to each other and explore their own understanding of the vision. They may argue and debate its implications, but with proper leadership, the arguments increase the group’s clarity and cohesiveness.

Of course, not everyone will be attracted to a particular future, so a vision also functions as both an attractor and a filter. It is a way of shaping a community of commitment that will invest energy and resources toward the common future you are initiating. Those who don’t or can’t see themselves in the vision, whether customers, employees, or partners, should be given ample time either to discover their connection or accept a humane path to fulfilling their own.

A powerful vision is compelling. It asserts a stretch and a provocation. It shakes people out of their current mode of thinking. It challenges the assumed limits of what is and is not possible. A well-constructed vision ought to surprise and delight or outrage and even anger the listener. These are signs that the vision has power.

Here are some examples:

“The U.S. should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” -John F. Kennedy

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  -Martin Luther King Jr.

“I want every girl, every child to be educated.” -Malala Yousafsai

“My vision, my hope, is simply this: that many business leaders will come to see a primary role of business as incubators of the human spirit, rather than factories for the production of more material goods and services.” -Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop

“… a computer in every home and on every desk.” -Bill Gates