Academic journal article Military Review

Vision Precedes Success

Academic journal article Military Review

Vision Precedes Success

Article excerpt

DURING HIS BATTALION change of command ceremony, Lieutenant Colonel John Smith mentally relives the past two years of command. His mind fills with memories of one triumphant training event after another, glowing inspection reports and praise from his seniors and subordinates alike. Smith is proud of his two superior command officer evaluation reports and recent selection to the US Army War College. However, after all is said and done, he unmistakenly feels something is missing. As he reflects, he remembers doing great on all the calendar stuff, but did he prepare the unit for the future? Because he always felt so overwhelmed by the calendar and inspections, he never had time to focus on the organization's future. Of course, history will be his judge. In fact, his former soldiers might even think that all he did was try to look good, punch his ticket and run before anyone was the wiser. Only time will tell if Smith made a positive or negative impact on the unit. He really wanted to have a positive impact, but he just didn't know how to get to his vision.

Smith is not alone. With the operations tempo (OPTEMPO) as high as it is today for most units, it is a wonder any commanders fulfill their vision. However, many journals, magazines and newspapers have devoted considerable time and attention to the subject of vision in the past few years. Leaders are often baffled, thinking "I can see it but I cannot seem to get my arms around it," or "I know a great vision when I see it but I don't know how to . . ." A vision often appears hazy and fails to produce tangible results. This article will provide a simple explanation of vision and review important research on the subject.

Why a Vision is Important

Current issues facing our Army appear so overwhelming that it seems pointless to think about the future. From OPTEMPO, deployments and budget reductions, to sexual harassment issues, erosion of benefits and women in combat, Army leaders have a plateful.1 Despite today's difficult issues, it is extremely important to have a positive future vision. A vision is the most forceful motivator for action and change.2 The Book of Proverbs states "Where there is no vision, the people perish." It is difficult to rise above everyday life and see beyond the present issues.3 Therefore, one must look to the future to rise above the present.

Historian Fred Pollack detailed his findings on vision-a positive vision of the future is the key ingredient to greatness.4 Pollack studied many nations throughout history to see how positively they envisioned their futures, and then he examined how well these nations lived up to their expectations. From this research, Pollack discovered that significant vision preceded significant success.5 In each great civilization, he found the same results-vision was the decisive factor. Leaders offered a compelling future vision for their societies. Then, leaders and societies worked together to transform their visions into reality. Pollack found this true for every great civilization he studied. The astonishing fact was that many civilizations began their rise to greatness without the proper resources, succeeding despite their obvious limitations. Their vision looked beyond obvious limitations and described a compelling future.6 If a powerful, positive future vision works for complex societies, can it work for smaller organizations?

In a Naval Postgraduate School thesis, several top Navy ships were studied to determine what distinguished great ships and their captains from ordinary ones. The two researchers, Navy Commanders Gregg G. Gullickson and Richard D. Chenette, concluded that the extraordinary commanding officers' success was neither due to technical expertise nor administrative skill, but to communicating a compelling vision of the future and to gaining the crews' supporting commitment. The commander and crew worked together to transform their vision into reality.7 If a powerful, positive future vision works for ships in the Navy, can it work for individual soldiers? …

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