The Difference Between Vision and a Hallucination


I remember a conversation I once had with a leader of a health system. This leader, a religious sister, was talking about the vision she had for the future of health care for her system when she made a comment I will never forget. She said “the only difference between a vision and a hallucination is the number of people that see it”.  Her thinking was that leaders help people go beyond what is currently tangible and visible to what is invisible but believe it is possible. Whenever I repeat that quote there is usually public laughter and silent reflection.

The first question of the New Year that any leader might ask is am I creating Hallucinations or Visions for performance that my people believe in and that authentically challenge us to take our performance game to the next level in the New Year?

I’ve covered the top three biggest challenges leaders have between Visions of Performance and Hallucinations for the New Year, and ways to overcome them:

1. How do we create stretch and credible targets that are believed and owned through execution?

The targets for the New Year can’t be set solely by the expectations of the street, desires of leadership, or by plugging the holes in a budget or financial plan.  The rigorous dialogue that leads to seeing and believing starts with this question: What is it that we want to create, that does not now exist, and that we are willing to endure personal sacrifice to bring to life?  Meaningful targets are set by initially and authentically engaging in the question about what do we want to create. The opportunity is to take this conversation from a budget process decision to a commitment conversation by asking your team, what would they be most proud of achieving in the New Year? How and where can we best challenge ourselves to achieve what we are capable of achieving?

Leaders help people go beyond what is currently tangible and visible to what is invisible but believe it is possible.

It is equally important to bring greater transparency to the goal and target setting by answering the paradox question of stretch versus credible. What does stretch and (versus or) credible targets look like? What targets go beyond our comfort zone with a sense that we don’t know how we are going to achieve them, and yet are credible enough that we don’t find excuses or rational for not achieving them when the going gets tough throughout the year. Both of these frameworks of conversation:  what we want to create, and “stretch and credible”, are essential to establish the belief’s necessary to deliver on an inspiring performance in the New Year.

 2. How do we manage to the near-term pressures of the quarter and build an exciting long-term vision?

The challenge of managing the near-term and the long-term priorities of the business is not new, however the pressure to meet quarter-by-quarter expectations does seem to intensify each year. Again, it is the opportunity of leadership to set the dialogue on this extremely important New Year topic. The question is, how do we not manage to the quarter at the expense of the long-term results, as well as make sure that we work from the future back versus just today out?

One of the most helpful approaches to pacing and sequencing the balance between today’s and tomorrow’s targets is to organize the New Year’s initiatives into one of three categories. These categories are:

  • run the business better today,
  • build capabilities to execute on tomorrows vision, and
  • “key growth bets” for today and tomorrow.

When an organization looks at their major initiatives or priorities with this lens, they can now again ask the question of commitment that best balances the short and long term. The question may now be obvious and is, “what is the right balance between these categories of initiatives to run the business better today and build a compelling business for the future?

Why are we doing what we do? And how will we do it better than ever in the New Year?

3. How do we re-discover in the New Year why we are we doing this anyway?

While targets, goals, and other metrics are always required to start a new year, one area that can be just as important is re-discovering the purpose of your organization. Why are we doing what we do? And how will we do it better than ever in the New Year?

We find two very straightforward conclusions as we have conversations with people about the New Year. The first is that people are less and less willing to work for organizations without a higher purpose, and the second is that those organizations with a clear purpose financially outperform those that don’t have one.

The most successful leaders, teams, and individuals spend time on things bigger than themselves. It is this purpose that makes the struggles worthwhile and the legacy one of great personal pride. The purpose question is:  what is our purpose that you most care about and that is bigger than any one of us? And what can we do to make it even more dynamic in the way we run and build our business in the New Year?

With the start of 2014, many organizations layout their goals, plans and priorities for the upcoming year and outline their most important performance targets. It starts with a gathering of the senior most leaders where there is often a presentation on where we have been, where we are, and where we want to go. This presentation is predictability converted into the content for town hall meetings that is cascaded as the New Year game plan to the rest of the organization. Possibly the biggest mistake and greatest opportunity in the New Year is not getting the targets set, but creating believers in what is possible, what is worth fighting for, and being very focused on the difference between compliance and true commitment .

Maybe the most important first act of the New Year is not just setting the goals, but designing the conversations required to have people see and believe in those goals and ensuring they are visions vs. hallucinations.

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Image credit: rolffimages / 123RF Stock Photo

Jim Haudan is the CEO and Chairman of Root, Inc. For more than 20 years, Jim has helped organizations unleash hidden potential by fully engaging their people to deliver on the strategies of the business. Jim believes business results are achieved by meaningfully connecting strategy to all of the people in the company to bring it to life. For eight straight years Root has been on the Great Place to Work® Institute’s 25 Best Small and Medium Workplaces, and among the 2009 Top Small Workplaces according to the Wall Street Journal and Winning Workplaces Inc. Root’s clients include some of the biggest names in business, such as Gap Inc., Petco, Dow Chemical, Pepsi, FirstEnergy, Taco Bell, and Hilton Hotels – more than 500 companies and tens of millions of people. Jim is a frequent speaker on leadership alignment, strategy execution, employee engagement, business transformation, change management, and accelerated learning. He has spoken at TEDx BGSU, the Conference Board events and numerous client meetings. He also contributes regularly to business publications and blogs and has written a national best-selling book, The Art of Engagement: Bridging the Gap Between People and Possibilities (McGraw-Hill, 2008).

  • Jesse Lyn Stoner

    An excellent post, Jim – one of the best articles on vision I have read in a long time. I love your explanation of the difference between a hallucination and a vision. And I appreciate your highlighting two major issues in goal-setting – stretch vs credible and long term vs short term. I especially appreciate your point that these important issues must be answered through real and serious dialogue if they are to be fully embraced by those who need to execute. The only thing I would change would be to delete the word “maybe” from your final statement – “Maybe the most important first act of the New Year is not just setting the goals, but designing the conversations required to have people see and believe in those goals and ensuring they are visions vs. hallucinations.”

  • Pingback: The Friday Roundup – goals, hallucinations, difficult questions meaning out of action and the impostor syndrome()

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