One of the great dreamers of the 20th century was Walt Disney. Any person who could create the first sound cartoon, first all-color cartoon, and first animated feature-length motion picture is definitely someone with vision. But the vision for his greatest masterpieces came from an unexpected place.

Back when Walt’s two daughters were young, he used to take them to an amusement park in the Los Angeles area on Saturday mornings. His girls loved it, and he did too. An amusement park is a kid’s paradise, with wonderful atmosphere: the smell of popcorn and cotton candy, the gaudy colors of signs advertising rides, and the sound of kids screaming as the roller coaster plummets over a hill.

Walt was especially captivated by the carousel. As he approached it, he saw a blur of bright images racing around to the tune of energetic calliope music. But when he got closer and the carousel stopped, he could see that his eye had been fooled. He observed shabby horses with cracked and chipped paint. And he noticed that only the horses on the outside row moved up and down. The others stood lifeless, bolted to the floor.

The cartoonist’s disappointment inspired him with a grand vision. In his mind’s eye, he could see an amusement park where the illusion didn’t evaporate, where children and adults could enjoy a carnival atmosphere without the seedy side that accompanies some circus or traveling carnivals. His dream became Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Fleshing It Out

Vision is everything for a leader. It is utterly indispensable. Why? Because vision leads the leader. It paints the target. It sparks and fuels the fire within, and draws the leader forward. It is also the fire lighter for others who follow that leader. Show me a leader without vision, and I’ll show you someone who isn’t going anywhere. At best, he is traveling in circles.

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To get a handle on vision and how it comes to be part of a good leader’s life, understand these things:

  1. Vision starts within. Look inside yourself. Draw on your natural gifts and desires. Look to your calling if you know it.
  2. Vision draws on your history. Talk to any leader and you’re likely to discover key events in her past that were instrumental in the creation of her vision.
  3. Vision meets others’ needs. True vision goes beyond what one individual can accomplish. If it has value, it doesn’t just include others—it adds value to them.

Vision helps you gather resources. A great vision attracts like a magnet.

To find the vision that is indispensable to leadership, you have to become a good listener. You must listen to several voices. There’s the inner voice, that hints at what you want to pursue and create from the very depths of who you are and what you believe. There’s your unhappy voice, which speaks up to you when noticing what doesn’t work. Discontent with the status quo is a great catalyst for vision. The successful voice comes to you from the great mentors you can surround yourself with, people who emulate what you want and can help light the way. And finally, tapping into your higher voice requires that you look beyond yourself, even beyond your own lifetime—this may mean some deeper soul searching, meditation or prayer to a higher power.

Luckily, you can improve your vision through a few measured steps. Consider the following:

  • Measure yourself. If you have previously thought about the vision for your life and articulated it, measure how well you are carrying it out. Talk to several key people, such as your spouse, a close friend, or your best teammates and ask them to state what they think your vision is. If they can articulate it, then you are probably living it.
  • Write it down. Writing your vision gives you clarity. Once you’ve written it, evaluate whether it’s worthy of your life’s best. And then pursue it with all you’ve got.
  • Do a gut check. If you haven’t done a lot of work on vision, spend the next several weeks or months thinking about it. Consider what really impacts you at a gut level. What makes you cry? What makes you dream? What gives you energy?
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Think about all the change you’d like to see in the world around you. What do you see that isn’t, but could be? Once your ideas start to become clearer, write them down and talk to a mentor about them.

When you look deep into your heart for a vision, what do you see? Your vision doesn’t have to be wildly complex or detailed to be of value to you and your people. In fact, as it’s been summarized by author Larry Taylor, Walt Disney’s vision for his parks was as simple as could be: “No chipped paint. All the horses jump.”

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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
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