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Vision Matters: Thought-Leadership Strategies for Success

05/04/2015 05:12 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2016
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"This is the way to live -- believing so much in your vision that even when you're dying, you whisper it into another person's ear."
--Mike Vance, author and former dean of Disney University

In his classic book on leadership, Think Out of the Box, Mike Vance tells the story of a determined journalist who got into Walt Disney's hospital room for an interview the night before Walt died. Mr. Disney was so ill that he could not sit up or speak above a whisper, so he invited the reporter to come close. For 30 minutes the reporter lay in bed next to Mr. Disney, who pointed to an imaginary map of the famous theme park on the ceiling while he described his vision for the Magic Kingdom.

After the completion of Walt Disney World six years later, someone said, "Isn't it too bad that Walt Disney didn't live to see this?"

Mike Vance replied, "He did see it. That's why it's here."

Walt Disney knew the power of vision. He created Walt Disney World in his mind and then led others to imagine and support his idea for a revolutionary theme-park experience. This is the essence of visionary thought leadership and the heart of what it takes to create a dream in this world.

Visionary thought-leadership strategies are not just for people with extraordinary goals. These invaluable practices are necessary for anyone who wants to do more than just survive the information and obligation onslaught of the 21st century.

In 1976 the world was introduced to the Concorde, a powerful jet that flew at a speed of more than 1,300 miles an hour. Autopilot technology already existed, of course, but the speed and size of the Concorde required a far more sophisticated system. The autothrottle maintained supersonic speeds, and pilots flew "hands-free" as the autopilot actively course-corrected the Concorde for most of the time it was in the air. Without the ability to program the proper destination and speed into the autothrottle and autopilot, the Concorde would have been unlikely to succeed.

Consider that we now live in a warp-speed aircraft called the 21st century. In the 11 seconds it took you to read the last two sentences, approximately 99,000 tweets were posted, some 528,000 Google searches were initiated, and over 22 million emails were sent. In addition, natural disasters, international conflicts and socioeconomic challenges continue to occupy our minds, crowding out the narrow, positive path to our dreams.

Like the pilots of the Concorde, you need to choose your destination and then program it deep within your psyche so that your brain can act as a continually course-correcting autopilot and your heart can be the autothrottle that keeps you moving forward, even in challenging circumstances. To do this, you need to be clear about your vision and plan for challenges along the way. In other words, you won't be able to give your vision arms and legs in reality unless you can see a clear path through or around predictable barriers. Furthermore, you need to plan for both failure and success.

With clear vision and careful planning, you can quickly spot rare opportunities and original solutions. This internal, visionary thought leadership naturally leads to effective actions, and these actions directly influence the thoughts and actions of others.

Before you start on any dream, ask yourself four powerful questions suggested by John Fields in his TEDTalk about the fear of failure:

  • "What if I fail? And If I do fail, how will I recover?

  • "What if I do nothing?"
  • "What if I succeed?"
  • "How will I handle success? How can I prepare for my dream coming true?"
  • The answers to these questions will reassure your future self that you can keep moving toward your goal, since you have solid plans for the realities of success and failure.

    Roy Disney was 72 years old when his younger brother Walt died. For decades he had served as the left-brained financial planner alongside Walt, who served as the visionary thought leader of their enterprise. When Walt died, Roy scratched his plans for retirement and took on the task of completing their shared dream.

    Roy was highly skilled at planning and anticipating challenges. He completed building Walt Disney World, the largest construction project in the world at the time, without acquiring a single cent of debt, by planning for obstacles and success.

    When asked why he'd taken on this project at an advanced age, Roy Disney smiled and said that he didn't want to have to explain to Walt when he saw him again why their dream hadn't come true. Three months after the opening of Walt Disney World, Roy Disney died. He was a happy 78-year-old man who truly knew how to make dreams happen.

    So what is your Walt Disney World?

    Dream big. Then map out the future, plan for setbacks as well as success, and organize knowledge and resources to support yourself either way. Use introspection, accountability, and mindfulness to get your former self-defeating thoughts and actions out of your way.

    With a solid identity, a well-rehearsed plan, and a dynamic vision, you too can be a visionary thought leader and change this world for the better.

    Keep dreaming. Keep thinking. Keep planning. Keep going.

    Be you.

    "Instead of thinking about what you would do if you knew you wouldn't fail, maybe a better question is... What's truly worth doing, whether you fail or succeed?"
    --Chris Gullibeau, author of The $100 Startup