Leadership for a Lifetime: Vision

If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.

~Lawrence J. Peter

For those of us who grew up in the Sixties, July 20, 1969 will go down as the most inspirational day of our lives. We gathered around our TV sets in wonder as Neil Armstrong spoke these immortal words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Our nation was brimming with pride.

A mere eight years earlier, America’s new and charismatic president had a vision. As far-fetched as it seemed at the time, JFK challenged Congress to support an initiative to put a man on the moon (safely returned) by the end of the decade. Amid a pool of skeptics, the vision was cast and NASA would successfully achieve this unimaginable mission with months to spare. It was one of the greatest moments in world history.

Question: would this have played out as it did if JFK hadn’t offered his bold vision? Not a chance. It illustrates so well why history’s greatest achievements and admired people are guided by an inspiring vision or purpose.

We might not be in the same league as JFK, Lincoln, Jobs, Disney, Edison, Franklin, Columbus, Mandela, MLK, Gates, Graham, or Mother Teresa, but in our own ways, we can all live with vision, too.  And when it comes to training our younger generation, it’s one of the most important leadership lessons of all.

During the high school and college years, a young person’s focus is clearly on the next step and specifically, on their eventual careers. While this is understandable, it can be argued that a more holistic approach to vision casting is essential. After all, a career is only one aspect of our lives and many if not most people change careers several times.

Is vision just one of those things that you either have it or you don’t? Not necessarily. Environment, training, and role modeling can have a huge impact on a young person’s inclination or ability to live with vision. Here are some suggested topics for parents, educators, and mentors to cultivate vision-mindedness in the young people we’re influencing:

The Big Picture:

  • What difference would you like to make in this world? Describe your dreams.
  • How would you like to be remembered? (The eulogy/tombstone ideas might be a little morbid!)
  • What does “success” mean to you?
  • Whose lives inspire you the most?
  • How can your passions and interests intersect to have the greatest impact?

College:

  • How will you define “success” in your college years?
  • What will you like to have accomplished in terms of academics, career, credentials, experiences, skills, relationships, and personal growth?

Career:

  • Knowing that the career decision needs to be one of the most well-researched in life, describe your 1) interests and passions, 2) natural skills and strengths, 3) personal preferences (on the job and in the working environment), and 4) ability and willingness to fulfill training requirements.
  • What perspectives can help determine that the careers you’re considering would be a great match for your skills and interests?

Service:

  • Reflecting on your passions and talents, what are some ways you can serve humanity?
  • What problems, community needs, and people groups do you feel most drawn toward?
  • When have you felt most fulfilled when helping others?

Family:

  • What are your hopes and dreams when it comes to family?
  • What do you consider the most important elements of a strong, healthy, and purposeful marriage and family?
  • What qualities will you be seeking in a lifelong partner?

Personal Growth:

  • Knowing that great leaders play to their strengths, what are your greatest assets and areas for improvement/growth? (A recommended resource for discovering your assets is this personal balance sheet assignment.)
  • Who do you admire most and why?
  • What are the traits of the person you wish to become?

As the young people in your life develop answers (and some guesses!) to these questions, it’s important to emphasize that our vision evolves over time…few are cast in stone. The key is cultivating a visionary mindset that reflects their entire life and recognizing that each vision is uniquely valuable. No one’s vision is their vision and no one can impact this world like they can.

Great leaders live with vision.

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