Vision and Personal Responsibility

Vision* is a matter of personal responsibility.  To help illustrate that point, consider a few rhetorical questions:  Who’s responsible for what happens in your life?  Who’s responsible for your workplace?  Why is your workplace the way it is?  What do you want it to be?  What would it take to make it better than it is now, and what does “better” mean?  Who’s going to make it better?

Defining and expressing a vision is a first, and essential, step in the process of taking full responsibility for ourselves and our lives.  It’s ultimately about being a participant and not a victim.  It’s about being a participant in our own lives rather than a victim of our circumstances.  It’s about being an active participant in our organization, participating with our colleagues to contribute to the quality of the place, and not a victim of the people we work with and the way things are.

Fantasy and Irresponsibility

One of the knocks against vision is that it’s just indulging in fantasy.  And that’s exactly what it often is.  Other than the waste of time, the problem with fantasizing is that we do it in an effort to avoid facing reality.  It’s about avoiding responsibility for actually dealing with life and the world and people around us on their own terms and in a constructive manner.

Fantasy in this sense is about wishing.  Those alleged vision statements hanging on company walls all over the world aren’t really visions at all.  They’re empty wishes–wishes that we operated in a certain way, that we treated our colleagues and customers a certain way, that we accomplished certain things.  And because they’re wishes, they’re guaranteed to never become reality.

That’s because wishing is easy.  Wishing is cheap.  Wishing asks nothing from us, and we give nothing for our wishes.  Wishing instead demands that the world and life and other people become what we want them to be without any effort on our part.  Wishing turns us into victims of the world and other people, neither of which will ever live up to our demands.

The real problem with wishing is that it denies personal responsibility for taking action to get what we say we want and to be what we say we want to be.

The Responsible Choice

Dismissing the vision question, however, isn’t the answer because it actually suffers from the same flaw.

Dismissing vision and getting back to work may seem like the responsible choice, but it’s not.  It’s fundamentally irresponsible because when we do that we’re actually refusing to take personal responsibility.

We tell ourselves that we dismiss the idea of vision because we’re so busy.  We’re working so hard doing “stuff”.  There’s no time or attention left for that kind of luxury.  We’re expending so much effort and energy.

But giving energy towards what?  Where is the energy taking us?  (We’ll set aside the question of why for now.)  What are we creating with all that energy?  Without previously defining for ourselves what we actually want, our effort isn’t in service of taking personal responsibility for producing anything or getting anywhere in particular.  We’re just keeping ourselves busy.

We can’t get what we want by chance.  There are too many other people and organizations trying to influence and act on us.  Their goals are to get us where they want us to be, not to help us get what we want.  We also have our own natural drives and instincts, motivations and fears, influencing how we show up in life.  These natural tendencies don’t typically produce our best selves.

So, these external and internal forces aren’t likely to lead us where we really want to go.  If we don’t first decide what we want, we’re basically just letting the currents of life and our own lesser nature take us where they will.  We’re leaving the outcome to chance and to someone else’s agenda.  That’s not being mature and realistic.  That’s being irresponsible with our lives and our organization.

The Demands of Vision

On the other hand, a vision (one that’s not mere fantasy) makes a demand on us.  It forces us to face reality and demands a response.  It asks what we’re going to do about the distance between where we are and where we say we want to be.  It demands that we take responsibility for doing the things required to fill that gap.  Then it convicts us if we refuse, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.  That’s what vision does.  That’s all it can do.

If we refuse to accept this responsibility and act, then we don’t have a vision.  We just have a fantasy–a wish, and wishes don’t do anything.

We May Not Have Caused It, But We’re Responsible for It

Another tricky thing about all this responsibility stuff is that we often confuse responsibility with causation.  We didn’t cause our workplace to be what it was when we arrived.  But now that we’re there, we, along with everyone else, are responsible for making it what it will be tomorrow and next year.

We’re responsible because our workplace will be something tomorrow.  It will have a certain culture and climate and a certain way of doing things and a certain degree of effectiveness.  It will be what it is because of the choices each one of us makes, what we choose to do, and how we choose to do it.  The question is whether our actions will contribute to making it more or less like what we say we want?

We’re responsible because we’re all there is.  Our workplace is just the sum of us.  There’s no “they” that we can blame for what happens here and what becomes of this place.  There aren’t any elves or fairies to express appreciation or do considerate things for each other or do our jobs better or fix our mistakes.  There aren’t any gremlins who act inconsiderately and ruin everything for everyone all the time.  Look around.  No one is going to save us from ourselves.

None of us individually caused our workplace to be what it is, but each of us has responsibility for what it will be.

*Again, we could use the term goal, objective, ambition, target, destination, desire, target, etc.–something reflecting a desired future state.