The Challenge with Vision

By Paul K. Bates

Author Ruth Haley Barton writes that, “Leadership involves a very peculiar kind of loneliness. It has to do with seeing something that others do not see, do not see as clearly, or perhaps have lost sight of.” You have experienced this loneliness, yes? Sometimes it wells up while you are out for a run, or at 35,000 feet while you’re staring out the window on another long flight, or sometimes in the middle of a business meeting that seems to be going nowhere.

Vision is not a matter of intelligence. I have worked with and for some extremely successful individuals who seem to accomplish their objectives without visionary inspiration, but rather sound judgement and hard-driving commitment.

Having the gift of foresight, of seeing over the horizon, is particularly challenging if you are in a junior or middle leadership role. So here are a few thoughts about shaping an image of a future that others may be unable to see.

Your future state vision has to be broken down into steps. Shape each ‘brick in the road’ before laying out the highway—let alone the new destination. Test and prove your hypothesis with comparative research and with math—the ‘what if’ calculations. It is the cumulative sum of these efforts that will result in the solution to the ‘S’ Curve dilemma that so many organizations face. This would will also underpin your efforts to assist others in seeing the vision. Some will never get there, of course. For several years, many investment analysts held the view that Jeff Bezos was doomed to failure. Sometimes, you have to move on to a new opportunity—a new environment that will embrace your vision—even the birth of an entrepreneurial venture.

There’s an old saying, too, that there is a fine line between vision and hallucination. Doing the grunt work of analysis and methodological calculation will keep you on the right side!

Barton also writes, “Any leader that cannot endure profound levels of loneliness will not last long.” Remember that everyone discerns at a different pace. If you are to succeed, you will need restorative and patience-building activities that sustain you for the long run.



Paul Bates

A Chartered Professional Accountant (FCPA), Fellow of the Society of Management Accountants (FCMA) and Certified Management Consultant (CMC), Paul’s career has spanned: senior academic administration; business and divinity school lecturing; investor advocacy; capital markets regulation; investment dealer executive leadership with P&L accountability; expert witness and international consulting in the financial services sector. Paul holds a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from McMaster Divinity College, where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in Theology. Paul is available for speaking engagements through Blu Pagoda LLC.