As a manager, lead, or engineer, a lot of your time is spent trying to figure out how to do your job. You can get bogged down in the details, and sometimes, it comes at the expenses of the broader vision. In my own journey of exploring leadership styles, the one thing in common between them is being able to separate your strategy from your vision. Being a great strategist will help you manage, but to lead, you need to be a visionary as well.
Strategy vs. Vision: The Difference
In a nutshell, you can think of vision as what to do and strategy as how to do it.
The big difference here is that your vision is focused on the future—the things you want to accomplish. Don’t get caught up in the details. It’s easy to start thinking about how, but stop right there. You’ll have plenty of time to strategize once you’ve found the purpose and value behind your ideas.
Strategy comes afterward because it’s the implementation of your vision. Once a vision is clear, figuring out how to do it is your next challenge. I’ve found that sometimes the strategy is easy, while other times it seems almost impossible. A clear and focused vision generally makes the job of your strategy much easier, however.
Can I define the vision?
You might be making the mistake of assuming that vision can only be defined by your boss or senior leadership. Even if you work for the worst company, or have a terrible boss, it still isn’t true. You might have very little control over what happens around you, but you still can define a vision and work to promote it.
So the answer is, yes, even you can work towards defining a vision. Just having the intention will force you to start working towards figuring out how to do it. You’ll soon realize that you’ll need to start talking to more people around you, exchanging ideas, and becoming an expert in your field or area of interest. A common misconception is that visionaries do it all by themselves. In reality, however, they poll the world around them to craft a clear idea of where they want to go.
Start simple with your vision. Outline one for yourself. It’s the basic exercise of what you want to accomplish and where you see yourself going. Once you’ve done this, start applying that same practice to your job, your team, and eventually to your organization. Discuss your ideas with others, and begin to cement them into a concrete vision that you can ardently advocate for. Just remember: your vision should be something that’s clear to you and that you can make clear to others. It should be something that you’re passionate about, because otherwise it’s just a wishful dream that will never be realized.
Visionaries grow quickly
For better or for worse, visionaries tend to grow rapidly in organizations. They fuel the energy needed to spur innovation and progress. Every highly effective team requires someone who has this quality too. Think about the rising stars in your organization. I’d bet that most of them have some type of drive to implement a vision they’ve advocated for. It’s a valuable attribute to develop, and one you can’t afford to ignore.
If you’re a solid contributor, or manager, and are wondering why others are passing you by, compare your vision to theirs. See if you’re lacking in forming your ideas and communicating them clearly to others. Remember, just because you have big plans, doesn’t mean others know about them. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about your ideas either. In today’s open world, people who collaborate better tend to end up leading the pack. If you don’t believe me on this, just look at the people who are contributing the most to open-source projects; they’re the ones most sought after by technology companies for lead positions.
Still, strategy shouldn’t be neglected
One fatal mistake is only focusing on your vision. Being just a dreamer isn’t going to get you anywhere. If you can’t move forward with how to implement it, then eventually people will realize that you’re all talk. A visionary that’s all talk is of no use to themselves or anyone else.
Depending on what level you’re at within your company, your strategy will be different. If you’re an engineer, strategy may be how to implement a particular architecture. As a manager, it may be about how to organize the resources you have to get the job done. If you’re a senior leader, it may be how to align the organization to prioritize your initiative. The keyword here is how—how to turn your vision into reality.
Soaring like an eagle
Have you ever watched a bald eagle as it hunts for prey? I like having this mental image when thinking about vision and strategy. The eyes and head lock onto her objective, making it clear what she’s after. Her entire body begins reacting, working out how exactly to execute on her plan. She uses every resource she has, spreading her wings, positioning her talons, and always watching for changes in the environment. She’s decisive once her mind is made up, putting every ounce of concentration and strength into achieving her goal.
To drive the point in even more, here’s a YouTube video of a bald eagle hunting (yeah, it was just an excuse for me to watch one right now, but pretty cool, right?).
The point is, it’s time to start thinking about your vision, and if you’ve already been doing that, it’s time to figure out how to make it happen. If you’re looking to influence the projects or people around you, this is where you need to start. If either vision or strategy don’t come naturally to you, don’t worry. It’s something that you can develop with practice if you invest in learning. There are a ton of resources out there from blogs to books to really amazing podcasts.
You may be brilliant but if you see people passing you by wherever you go, it’s time for a reality check. Start exchanging thoughts with others and refining your ideas. Start communicating your vision to people who you respect, and get feedback. Be persistent once you’ve defined your focus, and like the bald eagle, use every resource you have to zero in on your goals. Nothing can stand in the way of that type of determination.
Credit: Feature image by Freepik