See Jane Lead: 99 Ways for Women to Take Charge at Work and in Life
By Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D.
The vision paid off. She started the company in 1963 with her life savings of five thousand dollars. By 2003, Mary Kay Cosmetics was one of the largest direct sellers of skin care and color cosmetics in the world, employed more than a million Independent Beauty Consultants worldwide, and realized annual revenues of nearly $1.8 billion. You don't have to aspire to such greatness, but you would be foolish not to learn from Mary Kay's story. Strategy and vision go hand in hand. When you want to develop a strategy for increasing the effectiveness of a department, company, nonprofit, school, or household, you've got to make time in your busy schedule for visioning.
Author and Harvard professor John Kotter taught me a lot about vision. In his book A Force for Change, he describes vision as .. not mystical or intangible but simply a description of something (an organization, a corporate culture, a business, a technology', an activity) in the future, often the distant future, in terms of the essence of what it should become. Typically, a vision is specific enough to provide real guidance to people yet vague enough to encourage initiative and to remain relevant under a variety of conditions." Think about that for a moment. What is your vision for the activity or endeavor you are currently attempting or desiring to lead? Is it to bring your organization to the next level by developing a new line of products not currently available in the market? Or perhaps to create systems to strengthen the infrastructure for a nonprofit at which you are a volunteer? Once you have clarity in your vision, you'll be in the business of strategic planning.
Consider the success stories of these leaders who started off with a vision. You may never have considered these women leaders, but they are. They got people to follow them-sometimes to places where people were originally reluctant to go:
Mother Teresa-to provide care and comfort to the poor.
Liz Claiborne-to develop a clothing line for the "average" woman.
Marian Wright Edelman-to establish an organization (Children's Defense Fund) to give voice to the millions of poor children across the United States.
Gloria Steinem-to get more women involved with politics by founding the National Women's Political Caucus and the Women's Action Alliance.
Margaret Sanger-to give women more control over their lives by ensuring the availability of safe birth control.
Rachel Carson-to increase awareness and action related to the irrevocable hazards of pesticides and the connection of all life-forms.
Vision Makes a Difference
Your vision doesn't have to be grand or profound, but without it you can't expect people to follow you. Let me tell you about one woman you've most likely never heard of but who makes a difference in people's lives every day because of her vision for the future. I've had the privilege of knowing and working with Cristina Regalado for more than ten years. I've watched her move from an individual contributor position at the Los Angeles Women's Foundation to her current position as vice president of programs at the California Wellness Association. In this role, she's responsible for managing a team of eight to twelve program directors, overseeing a grant-making budget of $45 million, and maintaining relationships with six hundred grant recipients throughout California.
What I admire most about Cristina is her crystal-clear vision, her ability to communicate it, and her skill in influencing others to achieve it. She came to this country from the Philippines in 1984 and found her way into the field of philanthropy through her own value system and interest in women's rights. Cristina is the perfect example of a woman who has successfully combined her desire to simultaneously "do good" and "do well."
When she assumed her current position, what was in the forefront of her mind was being in a role where she could influence the direction of philanthropic giving at the foundation. She knew she had to be able to articulate a clear and cogent vision if she was to get others to follow her in pursuit of it. Her vision is to direct money and resources to marginalized and disenfranchised communities so that attention can be brought to the assets they bring to society and the challenges they face. Cristina works to change the impression many people have that poor people are noncontributors to society-and one way she does this is to give them the tangible resources required to confront poverty. When I asked her the core strength that contributes to her ability to achieve her vision, here's what she told me:
My values are what I stand on and harness to create social change. I have a fundamental belief in justice and equality for all. This was probably shaped by my own experience growing up in the Philippines under a dictatorship government. Seeing what leads to poverty, how people abuse power, and how people resist abused power made me realize change is possible-it's about challenging the status quo.
Being in the world of philanthropy allows me to live my values in a direct, concrete, and strategic way. I have access to power and influence and the ability to use it for good. The way to make change happen is to lead people-to engage them in the process of change. To bring out the talents of the people you lead, you have to start with your values and vision. This is true if you are selling cars or helping to eradicate poverty. Vision is an important directional guide-a compass-that provides a sense of coherence to your daily activities and links what you're doing to something bigger. Leadership is hard, and vision provides me with the inspiration I need. People follow me because they share the vision.
And there we have it again: the kind of values-based vision you need to get people to follow you. Take a moment to think about your own values. They could involve creating new products that benefit humankind, providing high-quality health care to the elderly, or even developing sound fiscal practices and policies that will ensure your company continues to meet the needs of its employees and the community. In a recent keynote address I gave, I was discussing the importance of vision when someone asked me what my own vision was. Without blinking an eye, I was able to say, "To facilitate significant and enduring change in the lives of the people I am privileged to serve by providing compassionate, creative, competent, and courageous coaching." It has been, as Cristina Regalado described, the compass that links what I do every day to my broader belief system.
What are you going to say when you're asked the same question? If you haven't already done it, I encourage you to develop your one-line vision statement. It should be a concise reflection of what you do and how you do it. Write it down. Wordsmith it. Practice saying it until it rolls off the tip of your tongue with ease and confidence.