5 Visioning Mistakes Leaders Make

My wife and I are enjoying a beautiful fall drive in central Indiana today. We drove up from Florida to surprise and celebrate our daughter Gretchen’s 25th birthday. If you want to see what a surprised 25-year-old actually looks like, click here. I do enjoy fall. Fall colors. The crisp fall air in Indiana. Apple cider. College football. Playoff Major League Baseball (Go Cubs!). Fall is an amazing season.

For me, fall also brings working on my 1, 3, & 5-year business plan. My clients are busy putting training, speaking, and coaching engagements together in their organizations. In addition to planning next years activities, I have been working on setting a new vision for my organization.

I know visioning is a leadership topic that gets a lot of press, and not all of it is good. Much of it is confusing, such as do you establish a mission for your organization and then set a vision, or does the vision of the leader establish the mission the organization undertakes? I don’t want to get caught up in this chicken or the egg argument. Actually, I think both can be true.

Choices of a businessman

Rather, I would like to spend some time reflecting with you on common vision setting mistakes I have seen leaders make in the past. Each of these common mistakes I have either made myself or been associated with leaders who could have gotten better results if they had paid closer attention to these elements.

When most leaders think of vision, they turn to creating the vision or casting it to followers. While both of these are important elements, rarely are these specific items where the problem lies.

It Is Not Vision Creation

Vision gets created in a variety of different ways.

At times, the leader gets an inspirational or even divine intervention. In these cases, the leader is often in a reflective or meditative state, and a vision will be provided to them regarding the direction the organization needs to take. Other methods for vision creation are more organic, and the vision will evolve from the existing work being done in the organization.

Vision can also be created by groups that the leader pulls together. I helped create a vision for a drug and alcohol task force a few years ago using an open meeting concept. (If you want to learn more about open meetings you can click here and go to a blog I did on the subject several months ago.) Using this process, group members decide together what they want the vision of the organization to become.

In all my experience with vision creation, rarely have I seen a statement that was the issue. In fact, I can not think of one example of a leader or a group who actually created a bad vision. The issues for vision not becoming reality do not rest in the creation process. If things don’t go right in the implementation of the vision, the actual vision itself can come into question as being the right one. Rather than the actual vision getting the blame, maybe we as leaders need to dig a little deeper into the question of why our vision is not working.

The 5 Mistakes

The following are simply five common mistakes that I have found to be common in my experience and observation. If you have other thoughts or have seen other things, why not drop me a line in the comments section below? I would love to hear from you and learn from your experience.

  1. Not describing where the vision originated. In my estimation, this boils down to pure arrogance on the part of the leader. The image followers have is that you were sitting on a mountain and received the vision for the organization from on high. I am not saying that this cannot happen, but if it does you need to communicate it to those in your organization. Followers need sufficient detail in order to understand and have trust in where you are taking them. Some will follow blindly, but most will not. As you provide detail on how you arrived at your vision, you will earn their trust. The Fix: Spend time providing detail around the vision to your followers so they can catch your enthusiasm for where the organization is headed.
  2. Lack of role clarity for inner circle followers. Those in your inner circle must have clarity about what their role is going to be in making the vision a reality. Those who are direct reports to you must be able to articulate and own the entire vision, from the creation process to the communication and implementation. There must be accountability within this inner circle. In no way can the leader come up with, own, and implement alone. Development, creation, ownership, and implementation must be an organizational process.The Fix: Everyone in the inner circle must have specific accountability for an aspect of vision implementation.
  3. Lack of personal belief in the vision. Many of you who read this blog do not have direct impact or influence on the vision for your organization. In many cases, it is handed to you to embrace and make reality. Others in your organization need to know that you embrace the vision. I don’t think it is true to say that you have to agree with every small detail around implementation. However, it is vital that you believe in the vision and overall direction the organization is headed. If not, you probably need to do some reflection on whether you are in the place you really want to be. If you do not like the vision, influence it. If you can not influence it and you don’t like it, then maybe your calling is elsewhere.The Fix: Reflect on how you personally believe in the vision of your organization. Write out your thoughts. If you don’t believe in the vision, get out.  You will only be a barrier to performance in the long run. If you need to leave the organization, this exercise will help you articulate what you believe so you can match this with the next group you associate with.
  4. Abdication of the vision. Here is one I heard recently: “This is Pastor Eric’s vision for our church!" May these words never be uttered in your organization, whether you lead in a Fortune 500 company or a local church. The words you never want to hear are that those in the masses have not bought in and owned the vision for themselves. If ownership of the vision does not get passed down, the likelihood of the vision becoming  reality is quite small.The Fix: Everyone in the organization needs to be accountable for how they are implementing the vision in their own organization. As you interact with subordinates, have conversations about what they are doing to own and make the vision a reality.
  5. Devaluing Encouragement. People in the organization need to know that you believe they get the vision. Far too many leaders cast a vision then move on to something else. There is power in vision and the people need to know you believe it! The best way to build positive momentum around the vision is to articulate it, then catch people doing it. When you catch them, why not tell them, and everyone in the organization, that you caught them? Again, there is no better way to get the behavior you are looking for than to communicate success. Period.The Fix: Catch people implementing the vision and celebrate it with the world!

P.S. Some of you are working on personal vision for your career and your life. I think some of the same issues occur in personal visioning work. You may have to make some adaptations, but I do think the issues are worth thinking through.


Study the 5 mistakes leaders make when it comes to visioning. Write a 3 bullet point action plan that can turn your mistake into learning, and eventually a success.

Example: After reflecting, I realize that I have not fully owned my organization's vision. As a result, I am going to:

  • Sit with my supervisor to ensure I can clearly articulate the meaning and intention of the vision.
  • Hold a meeting with my direct reports to connect what we do on our team with the vision of the organization.
  • Assign staff members to make presentations on how what they do links to the vision of the organization.

If you try this homework, we would love to hear how it is working for you. Why not leave a comment below and let us know how it is going for you?