You Can Seize Only What You Can See

By John C. Maxwell

Excerpt from Leadership 101

One of the great dreamers of the twentieth century was Walt Disney. Any person who could create the first sound cartoon, first all-color cartoon, and first animated feature-length motion picture is definitely someone with vision. But Disney’s greatest masterpieces of vision were Disneyland and Walt Disney World. And the spark for that vision came from an unexpected place.

Back when Walt’s two daughters were young, he took them to an amusement park in the Los Angeles area on Saturday mornings. His girls loved it, and he did too. An amusement park is a kid’s paradise, with wonderful atmosphere.

Walt was especially captivated by the carousel. As he approached it, he saw a blur of bright images racing around to the tune of energetic calliope music. But when he got closer and the carousel stopped, he could see that his eye had been fooled. He observed shabby horses with cracked and chipped paint. And he noticed that only the horses on the outside row moved up and down. The others stood lifeless, bolted to the floor.

The cartoonist’s disappointment inspired him with a grand vision. In his mind’s eye he could see an amusement park where the illusion didn’t evaporate, where children and adults could enjoy a carnival atmosphere without the seedy side that accompanies some circuses or traveling carnivals. His dream became Disneyland. As Larry Taylor stated in Be an Orange, Walt’s vision could be summarized as, “No chipped paint. All the horses jump.”

Look Before You Lead

Vision is everything for a leader. It is utterly indispensable. Why? Because vision leads the leader. It paints the target. It sparks and fuels the fire within, and draws him forward. It is also the fire lighter for the others who follow that leader. Show me a leader without a vision, and I’ll show you someone who isn’t going anywhere. At best, he is traveling in circles.

To get a handle on vision and how it comes to be a part of a good leader’s life, understand these things:

Vision Starts Within

When I’m teaching at conferences, someone will occasionally ask me to give him a vision for his organization. But I can’t do it. You can’t buy, beg, or borrow vision. It has to come from the inside. For Disney, vision was never a problem. Because of his creativity and desire for excellence, he always saw what could be.

If you lack vision, look inside yourself. Draw on your natural gifts and desires. Look to your calling if you have one. And if you still don’t sense a vision of your own, then consider hooking up with a leader whose vision resonates with you. Become his partner. That’s what Walt Disney’s brother, Roy, did. He was a good businessman and leader who could make things happen, but Walt provided the vision. Together, they made an incredible team.

Vision Draws On Your History

Vision isn’t some mystical quality that comes out of a vacuum, as some people seem to believe. It grows from a leader’s past and the history of the people around him. That was the case for Disney. But it’s true for all leaders. Talk to any leader, and you’re likely to discover key events in his past that were instrumental in the creation of his vision.

Vision Meets Others’ Needs

True vision is far-reaching. It goes beyond what one individual can accomplish. And if it has real value, it does more than just include others; it adds value to them. If you have vision that doesn’t serve others, it’s probably too small.

Vision Helps You Gather Resources

One of the most valuable benefits of vision is that it acts like a magnet – attracting, challenging, and uniting people. It also rallies finances and other resources. The greater the vision, the more winners it has the potential to attract. The more challenging the vision, the harder the participants fight to achieve it. Edwin Land, the founder of the Polaroid, advised, “The first thing you do is teach the person to feel that vision is very important and nearly impossible. That draws out the drive in winners.”

Focus On Listening

Where does vision come from? To find the vision that is indispensable to leadership, you have to become a good listener. You must listen to several voices.

The Inner Voice

As we have already said, vision starts within. Do you know your life’s mission?
What stirs your heart? What do you dream about? If what you’re pursuing doesn’t come from a desire within – from the very depths of who you are and what you believe – you will not be able to accomplish it.

The Unhappy Voice

Where does inspiration for great ideas come from? From noticing what doesn’t work. Discontent with the status quo is a great catalyst for vision. Are you on complacent cruise control? Or do you find yourself itching to change your world? No great leader in history has fought to prevent change.

The Successful Voice

Nobody can accomplish great things alone. To fulfill a big vision, you need a good team. But you also need good advice from someone who is ahead of you in the leadership journey. If you want to lead others to greatness, find a mentor. Do you have an adviser who can help you sharpen your vision?

The Higher Voice

Although it’s true that your vision must come from within, you shouldn’t let it be confined by you limited capabilities. A truly valuable vision must have God in it. Only He knows your full capabilities. Have you looked beyond yourself, even beyond your own lifetime, as you’ve sought your vision? If not, you may be missing your true potential and life’s best for you.

To improve your vision, do the following:

Measure yourself. If you have previously thought about the vision for your life and articulated it, measure how well you are carrying it out. Talk to several key people, such as your spouse, a close friend, and key employees, asking them to state what they think your vision is. If they can articulate it, then you are probably living it.

Do a gut check. If you haven’t done a lot of work on vision, spend the next several weeks or months thinking about it. Consider what really impacts you at a gut level. What makes you cry? What makes you dream? What gives you energy?

Also think about what you’d like to see change in the world around you. What do you see that isn’t – but could be? Once your ideas start to become clearer, write them down and talk to a mentor about them.

From 1923 to 1955, Robert Woodruff served as president of Coca-Cola. During that time, he wanted Coca-Cola to be available to every American serviceman around the world for five cents, no matter what it cost the company. What a bold goal! But it was nothing compared to the bigger picture he could see in his mind’s eye. In his lifetime, he wanted every person in the world to have tasted Coca-Cola.

When you look deep into your heart and soul for a vision, what do you see?

There are as much visions as there are visionaries. Focus your vision on what are appropriately topmost in priority. Until you focus and correctly perceive the foreground, you will not be able to completely comprehend the depth of the full vision when the time comes to focus on the background.