Creating a Vision: Looking at the Whole Board

“It was more than just the next move— it was studying all the pieces, considering every possible move, and then act with decisiveness. It was about strategy.”



While recently watching an episode of “The West Wing,”—an American political drama—on Netflix, I was intrigued by the phrase, “Look at the whole board,” in the episode titled “Hartsfield’s Landing.”

Let me set the scene. President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) was playing an intricate game of chess with Deputy Communication Director Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) while simultaneously dealing with an international crisis. As Bartlet moved in and out of the room, Seaborn was staring intently at the chessboard as he contemplated his next move.

Bartlet would repeat, “Look at the whole board.” It was more than just the next move— it was studying all the pieces, considering every possible move, and then act with decisiveness. It was about strategy.

As business leaders, before strategic moves can be made, there has to be a destination in mind—a vision.

When considering a vision, think about a puzzle. Before you start, you look at the picture on the box to get an idea of the final result. What if you received a puzzle with no photo, just a bunch of pieces in a box?

Leading a business without a vision is like putting a puzzle together with no picture.

A vision statement is different from a company’s mission, strategic goals, and core values—separate, yet they must work together.

In the book “Vision Driven Leader,” author Michael Hyatt explains the difference in mission and vision. “At first blush, they seem similar. People often speak as if they’re interchangeable building blocks of a successful business. They’re connected, and both are essential for a business to succeed, but it’s important to recognize they’re distinct concepts serving different purposes.”

While both the mission and vision statements develop strategies, they do so in different ways. Hyatt explains, “A mission defines what a business is, a vision describes where it’s going. The mission is here; vision is still out there. Mission is now; vision is next.”

Having a vision doesn’t mean you have all the answers—it’s about where you want to be in three, five, or even ten years.

Hyatt gives the example of President John F. Kennedy’s bold ambition to put an American on the moon within ten years.

“Many considered Kennedy’s vision delusional,” Hyatt writes. “They doubted we could land on the moon with the available technology and know-how—let alone bring an astronaut back alive.”

Even NASA’s first administrator, T. Keith Glennan, called the president’s plan “a very bad move.”

On July 20, 1969, the goal was achieved as the world watched while Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon and return home safely.

Once the vision is established, next comes the strategies that serve as the road map.

Hyatt writes, “Vision comes first because there’s no path without a destination. But without a path, there is no progress.”

Hyatt notes in the book, “Vision, as I see it, is a clear, inspiring, practical, and attractive picture of your organization’s future. It doesn’t have to be ten or twenty years down the road, though that might be helpful. I’m talking about an imagined future—usually just three to five years out—superior to the present, which motivates you, which guides day-to-day strategy and decision-making, and around which your team can rally.”

What difference does a vision make? Hyatt provides six pitfalls of vision-deficit leaders: unpreparedness for the future; missed opportunities; scattered priorities; strategic missteps; wasted money, time, and talent; and premature exits.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty, and almost every business has been impacted by disruptions in sales, management of employees, and company growth.

As a vision-focused leader, you can navigate through significant disruptions and crises. There may be a series of changes, but a clear vision allows you to lead through the situation and not become a victim of the circumstances.

Thressea H. Boyd, CEO
THBoyd Communications



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