The Importance of a Personal Vision Statement
We often talk about vision statements for organisations, but what about personal vision statements for us as individuals? Looking back over my career, and sharing a secret with you, I would say that the times that I have been in real trouble, drifting seemingly aimlessly, were those times when I had lost sight of my personal vision.
So, in this briefing, I would like to answer these questions:
- Do you really need a personal vision?
- If you need a personal vision – what does it look like? What should it contain?
By answering these questions, my aim is to give you an insight into the type of personal vision that I use and that has served me well over the years. If you are interested to learn more about this subject, then I have included a short list of suggested further reading at the end of this article that will give you other perspectives.
Do you really need a personal vision statement?
Obviously for me, reflecting on my experience, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
But before going any further, it would be interesting to reflect upon that word ‘career’. ‘Career’ has at least two meanings. The first infers a rational straight-line journey to success in our working lives. A second meaning is to move around in an uncontrolled manner, possibly jumping from one crisis to another. And it’s that second meaning that answers the question ‘Do you really need a personal vision?’ When I first started work, I was informed that if I did what I was told, and worked hard, I could expect to retire, having worked with that same organisation, doing broadly the same job. That’s 40 plus years of doing basically the same thing. Those days of certainty have long-gone. And with them has the relevance of that first definition of the word ‘career’. We are in a world of the second definition, where we have to deal with the unexpected, the career disruptors.
That’s why, from my experience, a personal vision is so important, essential.
What does it look like? What should a personal vision contain?
Some might say – ‘A personal vision – yes I’ve got one of those – I want to be a CEO by the time I’m 40!’
But this is a personal vision for a past world, a world filled with certainty.
The type of personal vision that I’m talking about has three essential components and an explicit job or position-based objective is only a very very small part of the vision. So, here are those three essential components:
#1: Your ever-growing personal capabilities portfolio: The most important component of the type of personal vision that I use is the capabilities element. You see, in an uncertain world, your future success depends upon the skills and experiences that you gather that will enable you to successfully meet the challenges of the next wave of disruption. Another way of looking at this is that you always need to be gathering and growing the capabilities you need to reinvent yourself to succeed in a fluid, changing world.
Remember that success in our world is rarely forever, so we need to be thinking about what new capabilities we will need to continue our success. It’s important to remember that success can bring problems with it. Success can mean that we get busy, we might get over-confident and we might forget to both refresh our capabilities and keep an eye out for that next disruption. Keeping an eye out for that next disruption and refreshing your capabilities can help you to climb from one platform of success to another as the world of work and your aspirations change – and that’s what this first and most important element of personal vision is all about.
The concept of moving from one platform of success to another is very similar to Charles Handy’s ideas in The Second Curve – please see suggested reading below.
So you need therefore to be planning for your next reinvention point. Think about how your world of work will change over the next five or so years. Then consider what skills and experiences you need to progress and to succeed in that changed world. This will usually involve ‘reinventing’ yourself to one degree or another.
So, from my perspective, a personal vision is not about a role-specific goal, it’s about building the skills and experiences you need to continuously evolve. If you’re interested in the idea of a career as a series of ‘personal reinventions’ or ‘success platforms’, then you might be interested in this video where I reflect upon my working life:
#2: How can I ensure the success of others? A great danger in a personal vision statement is just that – it’s a personal vision statement that’s just about one person – you. It probably took me too long to realise that my success largely came through working with and ensuring the success of others. There are two ‘others’ that you must consider.
The first are, of course, those nearest and dearest to you. Try reflecting upon these questions:
- What are the needs, desires and goals of those nearest and dearest to me?
- How can I help to make these a reality?
Try then reflecting upon how you can help those that you work with to succeed.
This process will help to give you ideas as to the actions you should be taking to assist those around you who will, in turn, support you as you develop your own capabilities and progress.
#3: Milestones There’s some truth in the old management saying ‘What gets measured gets done …’ so it helps to have goals but they should be broadly based, rather than based narrowly on just say one specific job. Attaining a broad position in say three years’ time is helpful, but tracking a growing skills and experiences portfolio is probably better. Thinking about your personal capabilities portfolio, how it needs to grow and how you can help others as you grow your portfolio will, together, give you a list of broad actions that are far more helpful than just a pure position or job-based target.
Using a personal vision statement …
I use my personal vision to reflect every three months on how my capability base has grown and whether or not it’s helping me to meet my next reinvention point. If I’m not continuously building then I know it’s time for action.
But without a personal vision I would not know that it was the time for action. A dangerous place to be in a changing world.
If you’re interested in exploring the concept of a personal vision further, then try:
Charles Handy The Second Curve: Thoughts on reinventing society Random House
Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy Living Forward Baker Academic