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Vision vs Visibility

Vision and Visibility are two words which, both in the context of sailing and in leadership, are worth exploring. This is particularly true in times of uncertainty which we can qualify as “fog”, or VUCA in the business world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) which we are all experiencing more and more as it tends to become the “new normal”. We are all asking ourselves how to navigate and drive change in this environment.

In these times, when visibility is restricted, it is increasingly important to have Vision.

In reference to Simon Sinek, “Start with Why”. Why are you, your team or your crew embarking on this journey together? A Vision is a statement based on inspiration, intuition, belief, which provides faith to the ship’s crew or the teams of an organization as well as inspiration to all stakeholders. The Vision is located beyond the horizon or behind the fog. It is neither visible, nor tangible. The Vision is in the mind, the heart and the gut of the skipper or the leader. He dreams it, he feels it, he believes it and breaths it, and therefore inspires others by it.

When a leader is able to hold up a compelling vision, inspiring his team day after day, enabling people to see beyond the horizon and behind the fog or the bad weather, it inspires creativity, innovation, collaboration to a different level. It is transformative.

Envisage a bigger picture that moves yourself and others to embark on a journey.

We need Vision to generate movement because movement enables steerage. Have you ever tried to turn any vehicle that is not in motion? You can’t. You need to move first. Move the vehicle and more importantly move the people (in their hearts), your clients, your partners, your team, your crew. A Vision answers following questions: Where are we going? Why are we going there? Who will we be when we get there?

Visibility is the reassurance that the Vision is slowly becoming a reality. It is the island or lighthouse appearing more or less where and when we expected it to. It allows us to measure how we are progressing on our journey. It is the monitoring of the strategy which was deployed and executed as a means to move towards the Vision. The outcome of our progress.

When navigation is tough, in restricted visibility, the tendency these days is to resort to electronic equipment and dive heads down into them. GPS’s and routing systems on ships, and extensive, hugely precise available data that we can get from our reporting systems in organizations. In reference to Tom Cunliffe, “How precise do you really need to be?”

The extent of the data available and the ease by which it can be processed, prevents us from envisaging a bigger picture.

This data may tell us with more precision where we "are", provided the data and all extrapolations are correct which is less and less certain, but unless we see a bigger picture, we can easily get bogged down or end up in danger. I sometimes wonder if the amount of data we generate does not contribute to the VUCA environment by creating too much clutter (just like emails have killed communication, but that will be another article!).

Visibility questions should be asked at the time of designing the strategy (goal setting) and should provide these answers: What is the minimum that we need to see to be absolutely certain that we are safe? How precise do we need to be? What else do we expect to see along the way? When should we see these things? How will we know that what we are seeing is a true sign of our progression? What should we do then?

And, please, do let everyone in your team or crew know the answers to these questions on a regular basis. It is part of being aware*. (Typically, a method used in OKR – strategy implementation, or Agile - prototyping along the way).

Enable your teams to drive the change so that you can steer it by maintaining the right balance between Vision and Visibility.

As food for thought, I invite you to watch the two videos which are referenced above, one from a business author and thought leader and one from a sailor and author. Both, very inspiring people in my view. Enjoy ! Simon Sinek – "Start with Why" superquick version (3mn) - Tom Cunliffe - "So you think you know where you are…" (8mn)

* see previous article "We're all in the same boat !"

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