Posted by Thom S. Rainer on April 23, 2012

There is no shortage of literature about leadership. Similarly, there is a plethora of material of why leaders must have a vision. It is with some reticence, then, that I offer any attempt to add a meaningful contribution to the discussion. What I am offering is more of an abbreviated synthesis of the existing literature plus a modest dose of my own experience. We know the critical importance of vision to the health of an organization, and it is possible to look at the components that comprise a healthy vision. For simplicity, I have noted five components that begin with the letter “C.”

1. Concise

Brevity can be a relative term. But a healthy vision statement must be understood and articulated by everyone in the organization. Long and wieldy vision statements are rarely embraced by most people.

2. Clear

Brevity is not synonymous with clarity. A vision statement can be very brief and very muddled at the same time. Lack of clarity may be the single greatest failure of a healthy vision. Though it’s not a vision statement, the simple system to evaluate diamonds provides a good example of clarity. The four Cs of cut, carat, clarity, and color help diamond neophytes like me grasp the basic fundamentals of a good diamond. A good vision statement will provide simple but powerful clarity.

3. Communicated

A vision statement can be concise and clear, but unless it is communicated well, it has little power. Leaders must continually seek to become more effective communicators. Many potentially powerful visions have fallen on deaf ears because a leader failed to communicate it well, either verbally or in writing.

4. Compelling

If the vision statement does not encourage or excite people to a greater goal, it is likely not compelling. You should be able to see clearly in the vision statement something that will naturally move people toward greater commitment and decisive actions.

5. Contagious

The vision statement should be something that makes the organization proud. It should be a recruiting tool to bring others into the organization. There should be something about the vision statement that fosters conversation and excitement. A healthy vision statement should truly be contagious.

Of course, these five categories are not mutually exclusive. One “C” obviously impacts the others. If I were forced to rank them in levels of importance, I would deem “clear” as the most important. Clarity seems to be the area where I struggle the most, and it is the element for which I get more questions from other leaders. An organization will struggle to move forward if it does not hear clearly from the leader where it should go. In that sense, an unclear vision statement can actually do more harm than no vision statement at all.