Stop with the "vision" stuff

Ever notice that some organizations spend a lot of time creating strategic plans that don't really end up making them more successful? John M McKee makes the case that successful leaders realize there's a big difference between strategy and execution.

"John, I realize you speak to many people and organizations all the time.  However I think I should give you some guidance before your presentation at our company:

Our managers and leaders need some real-world advice that they can use to get things moving again.  The last speaker who came to talk about leadership told them that if they had 'vision statements' for their departments and teams, then things would be more successful.  Consequently, a lot of time and energy went into creating departmental vision statements.  But in the end, her advice didn't work.  Things didn't improve much - if at all. I think it was a real turnoff for many of our staff.

Please - just give us some tips and tactics that will really work."

The speaker was the head of HR for a medium-sized company involved in digital processing.  I got the message...

When I did my presentation, I focused entirely about how to engage team members while getting them all going in the same direction. I provided real examples of things that actually happen all the time in most organizations, then we discussed solutions.  Lots of notes were taken by those in the audience (always a good sign) and at the end I got a nice round of applause.  A good number of attendees made a point to say to me that it was good to hear from someone who'd actually run organizations himself.

On the flight home I noodled about solutions needed today compared to other periods:  Why, in these challenging times, do some of the most popular concepts of leadership (such as the above-cited vision statement) fail to help leaders or organizations move forward?

Here's why:

1. Many of them were never expected to. The concepts, models, philosophies, were created for strategic value.  Not tactical.  Strategy is long-term in focus; tactics get us through tough situations we're facing now. 2. Strategic planning was invented by the military, probably first used in ancient Greece as a methodical thinking approach for army leaders who needed to have a longer term perspective in addition to winning the next battle.  But it was never intended to determine how to take the next bridge or town. 3. By definition, vision statements are intended to define the way an organization will look in the future. It is long term in perspective. Mission statements are more about describing what an organization does to achieve the vision.  The can be helpful for those who need some clear direction on a big picture basis. 4. Most people get confused by terms and words like these, preferring to be given fairly clear direction. But I'm not saying you need to spell out each detailed step a team member should take to get his/her tasks accomplished - that mistake could result in a loss of your best talent who resent such detail!

In my experience, across all the continents that I've worked, most people prefer to achieve success, create a good product, and help a customer to get what they need.  What I hear from teams all the time is, "They just need to tell me what they want done."

I call that describing an outcome. Outcomes are what organizations (should) produce. The best leaders know how to describe outcomes in words that we all understand and can remember.

Here's to your future!


Leadership Coach


John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

Editor's Picks