How to Create an Inspiring Leadership Vision Statement

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Leading Change" by John P. Kotter. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is a leadership vision statement? Why is making a vision statement an important step in leading change in your company?

In John Kotter’s book Leading Change, he stresses the importance of creating a vision statement when leading change. This is important because it allows you to articulate the ultimate vision of the change and connects all your employees towards a singular purpose.

Continue below to learn how to create a vision statement.

Articulate Your Vision

Kotter writes that articulating your company’s ultimate vision is crucial to the success of your transformation effort.

A leadership vision statement gives a picture of the company’s future. It sends a signal both internally and externally about the status your company aims to achieve (like “The nation’s most trusted provider of cybersecurity services” or “The epitome of automobile safety”), why it’s important, and why people should believe in it.

Ultimately, a vision connects people toward a singular purpose—orienting and guiding every decision that people make in your company, while aligning all subsidiary goals and initiatives. 

An effective vision also helps to define what is and isn’t important. If a project or policy doesn’t meaningfully contribute to the fulfillment of the vision (or actively hinders it), this is a strong signal that it may not be worth doing. Thus, your vision statement can act as a great filtering mechanism, enabling your organization to eliminate work or projects that don’t align—saving time, money, and energy. 

Find Your Organization’s Purpose

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, similarly argues that business growth has to be rooted in an ultimate purpose or vision. But, he adds, it must be specific for it to be useful. You have to envision some ultimate state you want your company to attain or position you want it to be in. Simply wanting to be “bigger” or more profitable doesn’t provide any concrete guidance on the steps you should take to get there. 

And it’s actually quite important that you get this right, because failure to ground your company with a sense of purpose or vision can significantly hamper buy-in. Indeed, studies show that defining your vision matters significantly to people in your organization. A survey conducted by EY and Harvard Business school found that, of 474 executives surveyed, 89% agreed that a company’s sense of purpose was an important contributor to employee satisfaction. However, fewer than half of the executives surveyed—46%—said that their business currently operates with a clear vision and sense of purpose.

To really drive engagement and buy-in, some commentators recommend that your vision look a decade into the future, focus on big-picture success (not tactical day-to-day concerns), and aim to inspire and spark your team. 

Strike the Right Balance With Your Vision Statement

Kotter argues that a good vision is realistic but ambitious, and strikes the right balance between being expansive and overly specific. 

It can’t be so vague as to be meaningless—it must be specific enough to provide focus and make it actionable. For example, if the vision statement for a content-streaming company was, “Our vision is to make customers happy,” that wouldn’t offer any meaningful guidance on how its employees should behave on a day-to-day basis, nor would it make any concrete promise or guarantee of value to customers.

On the other hand, the vision can’t be so specific that it limits individual freedom of action by employees, stifles initiative, or is unresponsive to changing circumstances. For example, if that content-streaming company’s mission statement was, “Our vision is to provide streaming content, primarily for urban-dwelling, upper-middle-class audiences, offering a 60/40% ratio of licensed to original content—for $8.99 per month for standard definition, $13.99 for high definition, and $17.99 for HD and 4K Ultra HD,” this would be far too narrow. It locks the company into its current way of doing business and provides no wiggle room for innovation.

The ideal mission statement for such a company would instead be something like, “We strive to be the world’s premier destination for streaming, ad-free digital content, offering our users an unmatched and diverse selection of feature films, television shows, and documentaries from content creators all over the world.”

Your Vision Statement Doesn’t Guarantee Success

It’s important, however, to not make the mistake of crafting a great vision statement and then just assuming that things will fall into place by themselves. In Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras warn that while having a vision statement can be useful, it’s only the first step. A vision statement, they write, doesn’t guarantee greatness. The real work is in bringing the vision to life. According to Collins and Porras, visionary companies try to bring the vision to life by incorporating their core values into everything they do.

For example, one of a retail chain’s values might be, “We strive to provide excellent service and an unmatched buying environment for all our customers.” This will then inform how employees in every department and at every phase of the sales cycle will do their jobs—from sourcing the best suppliers to the layout and decor of physical stores to the demeanor and presentation of frontline staff. 
How to Create an Inspiring Leadership Vision Statement

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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