Visioning the Future | The HBS Blog | Entrepreneurs

By Tom Caso Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What really separates good companies from great ones?  Sound business plans, effective execution, adequate capital, good products and services, loyal and committed employees are all key factors, but these critical elements follow and flow from exceptional leadership.  Visionary leadership is the starting point to building and establishing an exceptional organization.

Let’s first clear up a couple of definitions to hone-in precisely on visionary leadership.  Much has been made of “Mission Statements” for top organizations.  Simply put, this is a statement of what you are about and the methods you employ to accomplish your business goals.  Every good organization should have one and all employees should know it and practice it. It is often confused with a “Vision Statement” which by definition is something you see in your mind’s eye.  Visionary leaders have a firm picture in their minds of where they want to go and what they want it to look like when accomplished.  Yes, this too should be written and all employees should know it. Mission statements on their own can be rather bland and generic.  The good ones are specific and say something unique about the organization’s DNA.  Vision statements, on the other hand, should be always imaginative and creative.  They paint a picture that requires energy and drive to accomplish.

Walt Disney passed away just months before the opening of Disney World in Florida.  At the opening, someone mentioned to a family member that it was a shame that Walt was not here to see this day.  The response (paraphrase) was immediate and spot on:  “If Walt didn’t see it, you wouldn’t be sitting here today to witness it.”  Here is the Disney Corporation Mission Statement:  "The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to be one of the world's leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world." Contrast that to the vision (one of several credited to Disney) “To create the happiest place on earth”.

You may or may not be the CEO or President of your business, but that doesn’t get you off the hook.  What is your mission?  How well does it fit in with your company’s mission? What is your vision?  Do you see yourself as a vital part of the enterprise?   Leadership begins with the individual and translates up or down in all positions at all levels.  Imagine the possibilities!

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