This week I have been challenged with many processes, with an abundance of opportunities to reflect on things like how we can find our vision, how we learn to lead, and how we make decisions under uncertainty.
One of the biggest learnings has been that of observing a process, going back to my core values and staying true to my own integrity.
None of this has been easy because we so often get entangled in other people’s feelings, thoughts and motivations, and forget that we can, and should, have a voice in the process.
But by paying attention to all aspects of making decisions when faced with a situation is actually one of the most valuable things that you can do because it is the stress-test that you need to see where your values are aligned with the decisions you need to make.
What is a vision?
Many leadership, management and self-help books often talk about the need to find a “vision”, imagine what that looks like, and then build steps towards it.
It all sounds so logical and there are enough authors who claim to have cracked the code how to develop a stellar vision and then guide you how to make it into a success.
After following the literature, listening to podcasts, talking to friends and colleagues, and observing people at work, I think I have cracked the secret formula for developing a great vision.
The secret is… that there is none.
Now, that might be somewhat harsh given how much has been written about vision, how that is supposed to guide everything we do, and how a clear vision enables success.
Yet, for example, careers rarely follow one solid vision: as Kelley Yates notes in How to use design thinking for an extraordinary career careers are hardly linear rational processes but rather as complex problems.
Some authors have even suggested Chaos Theory of Careers where career development is much broader, complex and nuanced process that uses emergent thinking and responding to change rather than a one-off linear process based on singular vision.
I do also believe that often we have multiple changing visions that guide our actions across different spheres of decision-making, and so at least a vision for me is something much more complex than one grand career goal.
Challenges are opportunities to hone your vision
But I think we often fundamentally misunderstand where the best opportunities are for formulating visions and learning about ourselves.
One of the wellbeing coaches that I follow is Erin Lanahan whose email post came only a few minutes after I had stepped out of a stressful but meaningful conversation:
What strikes me here is often the missed opportunity for clarity.
We often see challenges as something inherently stressful and do our best to manage our lives so we don’t end up in such situations.
But if we submit to the process, pay attention to what we can learn, what we value and how we want to perform in a given situation (and if we go one step further and write these principles down), we can learn so much that enhances our skills and capabilities to tackle similar issues in the future.
Challenges are where we grow, those spaces that challenge us the most is where we have the most opportunity to learn, and also hone in more clarity about our vision.
Messy steps towards self-awareness, change and innovation
This aligns also nicely with increased levels of self-awareness and something that Ray Dalio also calls for in Principles:
“Acknowledging a weakness isn’t the same thing as accepting it. It’s a necessary first step toward overcoming it” (p. 475).
When we face challenges whether at work or in our personal life, it gives as an immediate window of opportunity to see our weaknesses but also teach us what it is that we might need or want to change.
Without understanding our weaknesses, we cannot get stronger.
Understanding therefore ourselves is about stretching the levels of self-awareness in which we also need sparring partners who are able to help us in doing so:
“You must stretch yourself if you want to get strong. You and your people must act with each other like trainers in gyms to keep each other fit” (p. 462).
Great leaders therefore are not afraid of conflict or dissenting opinions, they thrive on understanding how people think and why, and use that to also stretch their own way of thinking.
But it also relates to how we deal with and relate to uncertainty and messiness.
Even if we don’t always know exactly what we are doing or what our specific vision is, we need to keep our eye on the long-term:
“It is easy to look at messy circumstances, think things must be terrible, and get frustrated. But the real challenge is to look at the long-term successes these messy circumstances have produced and understand how essential they are to the evolutionary process of innovation” (p. 489).
If you do commit to something, it is always in the long-term, not in the trenches, where you should be evaluating what you have learned and how far you have come.
Give your vision time to grow
Also, in trying to formulate your vision or ideas for innovation, we need to give ourselves time, go through the messiness of thoughts and life, in order to arrive at what we think is worth aiming for.
The main thing here is that you need to take the time you need regardless of what other people are telling you.
If you cannot see the vision, but only shadows of what might be possible, then let it grow and don’t rush it like a madman.
Some ideas need time to grow, to become complete, and that is totally ok, the best thing you can do is to sit back, keep working on it, but allow ideas to emerge as they do.
I recently had to defend my right to do so, and although it ended up all in a big mess, I came through, not with a final vision, but with the acknowledgment that I am not ready to even formulate my vision on a particular matter.
In a world that demands constant answers and quick action, be the one who is ok with reflecting on what is happening, observing the processes and trends, and making decisions in a way that sits the best with your integrity and values.
Finding your vision therefore should be a process where you have the voice in putting dreams and ideas together in a way that supports where you want to go, how and why.