Last summer just about this time, I received an e-mail out of the blue asking me to be interviewed by someone I’d never heard of for a women’s lifestyle website that hadn’t yet been created.
And by the way, would I have lunch with Claudia Chan—who described herself as a women’s lifestyle expert and entrepreneur and former co-owner of a Shecky’s Girlfriend events company I’d never heard of—to learn more about this chimera?
How could I refuse after I read Claudia’s vision, included in the e-mail?
By profiling influential women and sharing their experiences and advice, my mission is to ignite today’s generation of women to thrive both personally and professionally by creating mission-driven lives they love—as well as inspire their necessary participation in, or contribution to the global advancement of women and girls. There are so many amazing causes, nonprofits & companies doing great work for women (domestic and abroad) so we’re targeting many interviewees with these affiliations & passions. They set the example for our next generation that women must help women.
I was hooked.
I was hooked because I was inspired by a big idea, one that taps into values and accomplishments larger than myself. Claudia’s mission statement declared her vision so I knew what she intended to achieve. I agreed to have lunch and to be interviewed.
Whatever the pursuit, whether in business, politics, the nonprofit sector, or life in general, the most successful leaders have one attribute in common—the ability to articulate a vision and mobilize others to join them in achieving it.
Vision is the #1 leadership attribute.
I learned this from my own work and life: Start with a vision. Not a small, incremental vision, but a bold, audacious, flaming red, bigger-than-yourself vision.
A bold vision creates meaning, not just as a focus for the visionary, but equally as aspiration for the rest of us. We are then able to see ourselves in the vision, and actions begin to manifest themselves as a result. As Professor of Business Administration and leadership studies pioneer Warren Bennis puts it, “The leader’s goal is not mere explanation or clarification but the creation of meaning.”
Nothing rejuvenates an old, tired, or demoralized organization like going through the process of creating a bold vision. Leading a diverse constituency to create a shared vision was the task before me in 1996 when I became national president of Planned Parenthood. It spurred a decade of growth and innovation that is still bearing fruit today.
Endurance is characteristic of a bold vision. It continues to compel action even after the originator has gone. And even if its goals weren’t 100% achieved.
Risks of being a visionary
Speaking the truth of one’s vision takes courage. It’s risky. If you’re too far ahead of your time, or if you are fomenting major change that angers the power elite, you may be laughed at (President Grover Cleveland said in 1912 about women who dared seek the right to vote, “Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote.”), fired (you can think of many a CEO or politician to fit this description), or even killed like Martin Luther King, Jr.
And to be sure, vision without action doesn’t count for much. As humorist Will Roger once said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
Yet without vision, action doesn’t satisfy people intellectually or emotionally, doesn’t instill loyalty or motivate others to take action.
Gender lens vision
Traditionally, men with leadership proclivities have tended to start businesses and create wealth. Women with leadership proclivities, on the other hand, have tended to start social movements and nonprofits: Susan B. Anthony and women’s rights, Jane Addams and the Settlement House, Margaret Sanger to call up some women from history. Candy Lightner and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Emily May and Hollaback just to name a few from more current movements.
But all of them started with vision.
Personally, I’d like to see more women thinking of vision as big as, say, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, and create world-changing technologies or business ventures.
Meanwhile, Claudia has launched that new site (claudiachan.com) she envisioned—and I predict it will be hugely successful because it started with her clear vision that combines doing good with doing well.
I’m honored to be featured talking about leadership, loving chaos, and why you should send yourself roses.
What’s your bold vision for your career?
How have you observed yourself or others using the power of a vision to lead effectively?
This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.