Who Owns the Vision?

This column is directed to executive directors and CEOs of non-profit organizations, presidents and chancellors colleges and universities.

Is your vision statement long and flowery? Or does it have more of a business tone? Can someone differentiate your organization or institution from those with a similar mission? Is your vision the same as the executive or president who served before you? Have you taken the time to craft your vision, or have you delegated that to a committee?

Here’s what we believe. It is up the executive leader to craft the vision statement. It has to come from you. You were hired to lead. You were hired for your experience. And you were hired for your vision. As a leader you need to articulate that vision – write it down, share it with your board, senior staff, major donors, and ultimately all of your staff. Ask for their input. Modify it based on the feedback you receive. It will become the institution’s vision – everyone needs to buy into it – but it has to start with you.

As you craft your vision statement think about all you know about the institution. Reflect on the conversations you have had with board members, donors, community members, students, families, volunteers and others. Think about their visions – whether they have stated them explicitly or not. Which do you agree with? Can these be integrated into your vision statement? Consider organizations similar to yours, and define the ways in which the organization you lead is unique – or will be unique. Think about the people you serve or represent and their circumstances; consider the political and economic landscape.

Sometimes a major funder will want to influence your vision. They may be looking for an organization to pursue certain programs and want yours to do so. These may be well intentioned requests, but is their vision in line with your vision?

If you are an interim leader, step up and assert your vision. You may have been asked to serve in a “care taker” capacity until the next leader is selected, or you may be charged with being a “change agent.” In either case, exert your leadership by communicating your vision.

Regardless of your tenure, your vision may conflict with that of your board chair, or that of a major funder. If that’s the case, take time to share why you hold the vision you do. It may mean you are not the right leader, or that the board member is not a right fit for the organization, or that your institution is not a right fit for a certain funder. Don’t worry – that’s life. There will be others with whom you or your organization are a fit. Don’t let fear stand in your way. Clearly communicate your vision for your institution – it will influence everything, so be explicit. That way everyone knows what you are trying to achieve.

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