The Disconnect from Your Vision That Is Costing You Your Business


Warren Bennis, one of my teachers and one of the world's finest business scholars, said, "Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." And in our lifetime we have witnessed great feats of leadership and we have benefitted greatly from it. As I sit in my Aeron chair, typing on LinkedIn's publishing platform on the Macbook Pro that sits on my desk, listening to Mozart's Requiem streaming from my iPhone, I am in awe of the vision held by the creators of each of these things I have come to rely on to accomplish my work.

I think about Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick as they set about designing a chair like no other. Can't you hear the critics? Does the world want another chair? For goodness sake, it's not even upholstered! And who's going to spend that kind of money on it? But Stumpf and Chadwick stayed with the vision and "owned the problem" as Bill Stumpf was fond of saying. And what came out of their vision and their process for the Aeron chair was nothing short of an ergonomic revolution. 

"Own the problem and define it as deeply as you can." ~ Bill Stumpf

Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn, instinctively knew that relationships are the key to existence. He used his personal genius to craft an enormous vision for networking called LinkedIn. He also had plenty of detractors. In fact, many large companies, like Nokia, initially banned the use of LinkedIn because of privacy concerns. But that didn't stop Hoffman, who continues to innovate around his major theme of relationships with companies like Airbnb. 

 “Entrepreneurs are like visionaries. One of the ways they run forward is by viewing the thing they’re doing as something that’s going to be the whole world.” ~ Reid Hoffman

I can't even begin to imagine a world without the visionary leadership of Steve Jobs. Jobs was so connected to his vision, he credited it with pulling him. It was alive and his purpose was to respond to it - to bring it to life. Plenty of people thought he was crazy, including the board he reported to and the managers who worked for him. Thankfully, he had the audacity to overlook it and to remain true to his vision. Otherwise, I might still be pulling my hair out trying unjam that old IBM Correcting Selectric and guessing where to stop the cassette as I fast-forwarded to my favorite song on my Walkman.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” ~ Steve Jobs

The Price of Vision Disconnect

But what happens when business leaders lose their ability to believe in their vision? What happens when the detractors win? And what happens to your company when you allow the "we can't" or "it'll never work" culture to take root?

Not much. And certainly not enough. And that's not good for anyone. Yet, each and every day in companies around the world, CEOs are leaving the execution of their vision up to weak-willed workers, myopic managers, and defeatist directors and wondering why they continue to fall short of their BHAGs.

 “The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.” ~ Warren Bennis

One of the biggest issues I encounter in my work with companies is the demoralizing disconnect from the CEOs vision. This disconnect is typically not evident to the CEO or even those in the C-suite who inadvertently perpetuate it by blindly diluting it as they "face the realities" instead of creating possibilities.

But it is always clear to me by the manifest results - or lack thereof - and by the nearly imperceptible and often unconscious scoffing of the managers and team members when we conduct an evaluation. Most aren't aware of their own brutal, albeit unintended, assault on the company culture and performance. Most are decent, hard-working people just trying to get through the day, the month, the quarter.

Some of the managers tell me (hoping, I'm sure, that I'll leave them alone) that they already know who's not performing well.

"I know you do", I say trying to be reassuring. "You know your team. And you can tell me exactly who is doing well, who isn't, and for how long. But can you tell me why? Can you tell me what impact management is having on their performance? Do you know what specific skills they lack that, if you provided them, would enable each individual to improve? And by how much? And do you know who, no matter how much you invested in them, would not be able or perhaps willing to change - to grow into the role they are currently in?"

This is never an easy conversation for a manager. It's difficult enough for the CEO but for different reasons. CEOs often want to hand this process off as soon as possible to someone else but this is exactly the issue we are there to resolve. Leadership leads change. Management implements actions. If it gets handed off too early, all you get is more of the same. But when the CEO leads the charge to get the answers and can create safety for the managers to explore the depths of the issues - the good, the bad, and the ugly - their own and those of the entire team, the systems, the processes, the strategies, the misalignments - then things can change.

When the so-called "realities" of your business or your market or your competition cast a dark shadow over the true potential of your big vision, it's time to face it and fix it. Otherwise, you risk losing your ability to imagine the possibilities and you live with mediocrity. Losing your ability to imagine the possibilities is the result of an unwise use of power. The ultimate consequence of this, according to Warren Bennis, is the loss of capacity to translate your intention into reality and sustain it. In a word: mediocrity. 

Warren Bennis taught us all that excellence is a much better teacher than mediocrity. Excellence takes work but, no matter what the doomsayers in your company tell you, it is possible. And it is worth it.


I help CEOs, presidents, and entrepreneurs of fast-growth companies significantly grow and optimize their businesses - double the growth in half the time. In addition to providing tools, and strategies, and consulting for revenue growth, my company, Align Strategic, also recruits sales and sales leadership talent with guaranteed results. Find out more about all the ways we help elite CEOs grow revenue here.

 If you'd like to learn more about me or to schedule a discovery session, click here.

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