‘Without vision the people perish’ according to the Bible.
The concept of vision is widely considered as not only an element in corporate leadership but in successful corporate leadership. What then is corporate vision and its role in corporate leadership?
Vision is the way one sees what, how, where, and sometimes who one wants to be; or for a company, where, what or how the company is going to be in the future. It is in the subconscious mind not the eyes. Vision is created. It is a creation of visualized idea or ideas one considers when carrying about or engaged in any undertaking. These ideas, which later on are crafted into the direction the organization will be taking, form a kind of picture in the mind of the person; waiting to be nurtured into reality.
Vision is very pivotal in the plans of any organization; actually it forms the basis of any organisationâ019s mission statement and strategy from which the business plan is formed.
Corporate leadership on the hand is or could in simple terms be described as how an organization is led.
It is normally the lifeline of any organization either a start-up or an existing company but to be a successful corporate leader takes a good vision. Thus given the fact that a business plan has been formed on the basis of a good corporate vision, may suggest that a successful organization is in the offing as a result of good and effective leadership. It will also show that the leadership is organized.
Success is subjective and could be measured by any benchmark; however, in corporate terms, it is usually measured in terms of achieving the targets set according to the plans of the organization which has already been mentioned earlier on as emanating from the vision of the organization.
Corporate vision is normally the preserve of an entrepreneur (who could be the Chairman, CEO, or simply someone who sits on the Board), even though it can be reframed by the whole leadership from time to time. Writing in a business journal, someone commented that ‘for the majority of companies, defined visions and mission statements are nothing. The exercise of crafting them is a waste of time and talent if vision statements are used for nothing but published in the annual report and copied to the reception area… To be able to energize employees towards corporate objectives, visions should be more than a sign on the wall and managers should live them, believe them, and constantly communicate to employees’. In other words, the leader’s vision of the future must be communicated to all and sundry in the organization to produce the required results. If that is done, then the benefits of vision which are among the following will manifest themselves in the leadership of the organization thereby making them successful:
* Sense of direction: vision basically gives the leadership a sense of direction. In a simple but important illustration, when one sets out from the house and jumps into a car; as soon as the car moves, it goes to a particular direction even if the steer is not controlled. The direction given by the vision of the leadership is usually deemed by the organization as important and gets the memberâ019s backing.
* Focus: the vision of the leadership puts the organization in shape to be able to focus on relevant strategic issues at all levels in the organization. It is believed that a clearly focused and committed organization with strong visible leadership can accomplish any task which they set themselves to undertake.
* Visionary leadership: with a vision usually comes a visionary leader. It is a role normally taken either by the leader who is not in an executive position to alienate him or herself from what I describe as ‘direct decision-making process’ but then wield greater influence on the decision makers by creating a conducive environment, inspiration and charisma for the organization’s leadership to make informed decisions, an example of such a leader is Sir Richard Branson of Virgin; or by one in an executive position, the visionary leader is always ‘ahead of the competition’ by making critical decisions based on his sense of vision; an example of such a leader is BP’s CEO, John Browne when he launched the ad campaign “Beyond Petroleum” linking emissions and global warming which granted him successful access to both Russia(as the first Western oil company to do so) and the US as the leading oil and gas producer with both ventures putting BP back on its toes.
* Driving force: vision can also become the driving force of the leadership of the organization. Drive is a very important attribute in leadership qualities and key to a successful corporate leadership. It is imbued with the ‘can do’ attitude and this is not needed at anytime and anywhere more than in this modern competitive business world of today. Drive urges the leadership to try to overcome obstacles than they will otherwise have done; it also brings ambition, initiative and motivation needed to influence others might not have fully grasped the vision towards the achievement of the corporate vision.
* An effective and appropriate strategy and or leadership style: because of the sense of direction vision brings along, vision can affect the style of leadership or strategy for an organization.Many leaders adopt certain styles to lead a particular organization as a result of the vision they have for the organization. An example here is the strategy being used by the Japanese president of Toyota, Fujio Cho.Based on his vision to ‘Americanize’ Toyota(Toyota now has 70%-80% of its global profits from North America), he has decided to place more Americans and non-Japanese executives higher on the corporate ladder and closer to the centers of leadership in Toyota. In effect, Cho’s plan is to move new ideas now from America to Japan instead of the other way round as it used to be and is even considering encouraging the people to learn to speak English well in order to achieve his vision.
* Self-confidence: vision gives self-confidence to the leader (or leadership).Self-confidence plays an important role in decision-making and in gaining other’s trust. The leader must be sure of what decision to make at least most of the times. It must be observed here that, the primary task of a leader is to have a vision of where the organization is going and thus set a clear objective to achieve them. However, followers are also essential if the leadership will be effective or otherwise. With self-confidence the leadership will not express high degree of doubt and then the followers are likely to trust and be committed to the vision and for that matter the organization. Self-confidence also boosts the leadership’s image and by that projection, they arouse the followers’ self-confidence in the leadership. Leaders with self-confidence are known to be assertive and decisive which is relevant for effective implementation of corporate decisions.
It is also important to note that corporate vision may contain relevant issues committed to ensuring quality and prompt responsiveness to customers, develop a great new product or service, and serving customers through the defined service portfolio. It also ensures providing an enjoyable work environment for employees as well as ensuring financial strength and sustainable growth of the company for the benefit of stakeholder.
The following is the vision statement for Fareham Borough Council in Hampshire, England (which is a corporate entity) as an illustration of the relevant issues of commitment that corporate visions may contain:
A Five Year Vision
Corporate Vision, values, Objectives and Action Plan
Fareham-the prosperous, safe and attractive place to be
Driven By vision
Fareham has become a prosperous, safe and attractive place to live and work. This has not happened by accident but by careful management of development and constant attention to the environment. Our vision for Fareham is based upon the assumption that residents want to preserve all that is good about Fareham,whilst increasing prosperity and making it an even more inclusive and attractive place to live and work.
This vision is guided by a set of values:
· Preserving people’s dignity and focusing on what residents want;
· Enhancing prosperity and conserving all that is good;
· Being efficient and effective and providing value for money;
· Leading our community and achieving beneficial change; and
· Listening and being responsive to residents.
In spite of the benefits of the concept of corporate vision making it an element of successful corporate leadership, the concept of corporate vision may be misleading to the extent that people or followers tend to become too dependent on a visionary leader and may thus ignore negative aspects and exaggerate the good qualities. As a result they may not question the leadership’s orders and in some cases encourage such behaviors case in point was when Enron’s Jeff Skilling’s vision of transforming the company to an ‘asset-light’ New Economy Company and things went wrong, his directors did not question that vision. It is believed that his vision as far as the market was concerned was exaggerated and thus far ahead of the ideals and so could not sustain it.
Another issue which might go wrong with a corporate vision is when the leader’s personal need is imposed onto those of the product or service. An example of such an interesting vision going bust was that of Dr. Land, the inventor of Polaroid camera which was successful at least spanning three decades. Land had another dream of what he called ‘absolute one-step photography’ by introducing another idea, the SX-70 camera. In setting the parameters for his new vision so to speak, he spelt out some demanding criteria including the fact that the camera must be totally automatic and would have to fold to fit into a purse, possess a single-lens reflex-viewing system and focus from less than a foot to infinity. This vision could not be sustained and was not what the market wanted. With his projections of 5million cameras to be sold in the first year, only 470,000 SX-70 cameras had been sold, by the end of its first year in 1973. His vision had missed what the market wanted.
The flaws in Google’s leadership are another case in point where a corporate vision is not producing the ‘Midas touch. Their vision of revolutionizing the search-engine might be on course but the leadership is not in itself anything good to talk about. Asked in an article in Fortune, whether Google is disorganized and for that matter the leadership? The founders proudly answered in the affirmative.
Vision is kind of a ‘skeleton’ for the company, with plans and strategies being the flesh. If surgeons want to correct any deformity in the human being it is normally done on the bone, which is part of the skeleton so in the same vein flaws in the corporate plans for the company might have resulted from the corporate vision and so has to be corrected from the vision.
If these flaws in the corporate visions could be corrected by setting parameters for the vision that are reasonable, attainable, and flexible so that they can be changed to be in tune with the changing business world and business ethics(in relation to Google), the concept of corporate vision could really be an element in successful corporate leadership.
 Fortune, July26,2004pp59
 Fortune, December 8,2003 pp56