One of the essential traits of leadership is the ability to create, articulate and carry out vision. Jack Welch, CEO of GE for 20 years and someone who is regarded as one of the greatest leader of his era, once said: “good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Ever since Jack begin his role as CEO in the early 1980s, the focus on leadership has shifted from traits and leader behaviors to the need for leaders to articulate visions to their followers, particularly those in organizations undergoing major change. Today, it’s viewed as a fundamental attribute of effective leadership and forms the basis of ones power to lead. Book after book has been written about how leaders who can articulate a vision well are able to help lead their organizations to a sustained competitive advantage over those organizations lacking such a vision.
Every leader needs clear vision. The problem is that, vision is anything but common and rarely clear. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all more nearsighted than we want to admit. Having limited vision is simply part of the human experience. We are quick to see only what’s in front of our eyes and fail to participate in the promises God has planned for us in the future. Where there’s no vision, the people perish, says Proverbs 29:18. Without a clear vision, you won’t last.
Do you see better when you squint? Many of us who are physically nearsighted squint to improve our eyesight when looking farther away. Unfortunately, when it comes to the future, we’re all born nearsighted.
Nearsightedness is simply the inability to focus on objects far away. You can think of it as being “shortsighted” or as having “tunnel vision,” resulting in the inability to see beyond your present circumstances. Our vision of what’s next will always be somewhat blurry. It’s just part of our human experience. Only God is omniscient. But you may not understand just how myopic you are until you start thinking about the future.
Sometimes we rush into projects without taking time to understand what it will take to accomplish the task. Other times we fall into a mindset trap that “well tackle the problem when we encounter it.” For many, we rely on our past successes to carry us into the future and we don’t pause long enough to challenge our assumptions. When leaders lose focus on the big picture and develop tunnel vision, those around them can pay a heavy price.
Being nearsighted really limits the perspective we can have. Given the fast paced and uncertain world we live in, many of us have difficulty stepping back and gaining perspective. With all of our responsibility to address the urgencies of our present crises, even the most well-intentioned of us are tempted to stop where we are. Instead of envisioning a better future, the immediate goal of managing risk today, improving our resilience, and safeguarding the longevity of our organization, church, or ministry takes precedence. It’s easy to maintain the status quo when we’re faced with ambiguity and limited resources.
Nearsightedness isn’t a new phenomenon either. It’s been part of the human condition for as long as we’ve explored our planet. A great example of nearsightedness in the bible is in Genesis 12:1-3. Abraham was given a promise that seemed impossible: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Abraham was unable to see the bigger promise that God revealed to him, and just three chapters later, he is still struggling to have vision for the future that had been promised him. God, in His patience, helped Abraham see beyond his own nearsightedness and invited him to believe in a bigger future than he thought possible. God told him not to fear or to seek a backup plan, but to trust him him. Abram embraced God’s farsighted vision and eventually had so many offspring that they numbered the stars in the universe. Abram “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).
Ultimately, as a leader, you are inevitably going to have to navigate your organization down a path it’s never been before. It’s just a matter of time. And when that time comes, it will require a shift in your approach – likely a shift that you won’t be able to make yourself. This is why we believe being farsighted is one of the essential qualities of a leader.
Farsighted thinking is the ability to envision and articulate a future that’s impactful and feasible. A vision that is rooted in your past, deals with today’s realities, but is focused on the future. As a leader, you need to be able to articulate where you’re headed, what’s possible when you get there, and what you can accomplish by working together.
A farsighted vision—and ability to communicate it—is what has set apart some of the most effective and successful leaders of the last century. Martin Luther King was farsighted when he wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech. Walt Disney was farsighted when he envisioned Disneyland and later Disney World. Steve Jobs was farsighted when he pioneered the microcomputer. Bill Gates was farsighted when he worked toward putting a “computer on every desk and in every home.” John F. Kennedy was farsighted when he called NASA to put a man on the moon within a decade—and to do it before the Soviet Union did. Ernest Shackleton was farsighted when he dreamed up his Antarctic expedition . . . and even more so when he continued forward toward rescue and didn’t quit. Henry Ford was farsighted when he visualized a “motor car for the great multitude” that would provide “hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.” Each of these leaders knew where they were headed, even though they may not have known how they were going to get there at the time. Having clarity about the future is powerful.
We all need a lens to correct our vision and help us see farther. So how do you become farsighted?
Thankfully, there is an antidote for nearsightedness! This is where futures thinking comes in. It’s the perfect antidote to help us become farsighted leaders and it can be applied to all areas of life, including education, space travel, city planning, or small group ministry. It’ll help you shift your perspective and to expand your ability to see.
Like a corrective lens that you wear to improve your vision, the Futures Framework gives you clarity and strengthens your sight. In a world where there’s more to see than ever before, looking through the eight lenses of the Futures Framework helps you determine where to focus. It limits the distractions around you and enables you to focus on the possibilities ahead so that you can see more clearly. It helps you actually become farsighted rather than compensating by squinting or rubbing your eyes.