“Okay, next on the agenda is a vision statement, do we have a good one yet?”

I hear this in boardrooms too often.

It’s the moment when a vision statement becomes a routine agenda item, delegated to a committee, or worse – pawned off to marketing.

In the era of the purposeful branding arms race, wordsmithing the most compelling vision statement that ends with “…to better the world” seems to have become a “best practice.”

The problem is that when vision statements are approached as “something to come up with,” they often lack a critical, powerful ingredient: the act of envisioning.

Envisioning is the collective act of vividly imagining and “seeing” the world as it could be because of why you are.

A vision without envisioning is just more marketing collateral.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Visionary leaders aren’t leaders who have a vision, they are leaders who know how to envision.’ – @zachmercurio ” quote=”I’ve seen it over and over, the most effective visionary leaders aren’t leaders who just have a vision, they are leaders who know how to envision.”]

In working with teams in almost every industry, I’ve found there are three key elements to effective envisioning: knowing your purpose, knowing your problem, and depicting what the world would be like without your problem (and maybe, you).

1. What is your purpose?

Unfortunately “purpose” is officially a mature buzzword, so it is important to clearly re-state here what it is:

Purpose is the reason you or your organization exists apart from what you do, how you do it, or what you get in return for what you do.

Purpose is your usefulness, your contribution, and your value. Any human organization experiences results because they serve some purpose.

Most of the time, your purpose can be discovered or re-discovered by asking, “What human problem do I/we exist to solve?”

Nearly all meaningful purposes solve meaningful problems and the difference between “problem” and “no problem” is your purpose.

Vision-Statement-Zach-Mercurio

2. What is your problem?

According to advertising executive and author of “It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For” Roy Spence, when Herb Kelleher started Southwest Airlines, he just didn’t set out to build “the most profitable low-cost carrier in the world.” Anyone could do that.

He sat down at a bar in San Antonio with business partner Rollin King and lamented about the fact that at that point in the 1970s only 15% of the American public had flown.

He knew that air travel provided freedom and imagined: “What if that freedom was available to people across the socioeconomic spectrum?”

Solving that problem became Southwest’s purpose, “to democratize the skies.”

Without talking about your solutions, products, or services, ask yourself and your team: What is our problem? What are we trying to make better?

On one side of a white board or sheet of paper, write down as many descriptors of the problem as possible.

Be vivid and clear.

3. What would the world be like without that problem?

Now comes the powerful part, the act of envisioning the world where you’re no longer needed, a world where you’ve fulfilled your purpose and solved your problem.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • If you have solved the problem and fulfilled your purpose, what would the world be like? Look like? Feel like? Think holistically. All human problems are complex and interdependent with many forces.
  • When I do work with teams, I use the STEEP model to frame this vision. What would be different about the world Socially? Technologically? Economically? Environmentally? Politically?

Write down and record the key elements. These are the components that should serve as the foundation for any vision statement that is created. After all, a vision statement is a statement that depicts the world when you’ve fulfilled your purpose.

Elon Musk gives a powerful example of a vivid vision that emerged from years of envisioning. It’s not about rockets or big launch events. For Musk he states, “I want to contribute as much as possible to humanity becoming a multiplanet species.”

What is your vision? Or better, what kind of world do you envision?


Zach Mercurio is a purpose and meaningful work consultant, researcher, and bestselling author of “The Invisible Leader: Transform Your Life, Work, and Organization with the Power of Authentic Purpose.” 
Learn more at ZachMercurio.com, follow on social media, and subscribe to his monthly newsletter “The Spark” below.