Michael Johnson’s name is known around the world. He has been in fact one of the world’s most famous athletes during the past decade. At the 1996 Olympics Johnson achieved what no other runner ever accomplished up to that point. He captured a gold medal in both the 200 meters and the 400 meters, and in the process, he shattered the previous world record set in the 200 meters. And he stumbled out of the blocks on his record setting race! So we can say that Michael Johnson is an achiever. If you read his memoir, Slaying the Dragon, you will discover a young man of vision who traces his desire to run fast all the way back to his adolescent dreams. He is a perfect example of the oft spoken message: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
But Michael Johnson learned an important lesson along the way from his father. Every time he burst into the house with some new dream of what he wanted to accomplish, his father would always ask him this simple question: “How do you plan to do that?”
That’s what sets apart the dreamers from the achievers – they develop a plan to implement their dream. Anyone can have a dream. But to put into place a plan that will enable us to achieve that dream – that is what makes a leader. That’s why we need to follow up the call to be visionary with the call to be strategic. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Yes, that is true. But equally true is this other affirmation: “Where there is only a vision, the people have a nervous breakdown.”
I am not trying to discourage dreamers. Instead, I am simply reminding us that dreaming is not the ultimate step but the penultimate step. Let’s continue to dream big dreams. And let’s allow the visions to roll. But then we need to face the question: “How do I plan to accomplish that?” Visions are implemented by strategic planning. A vision pictures a destination; strategic planning maps out how we will reach that destination.
This was the primary difference between President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), the twenty-eighth President of the United States and President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1982-1945), the thirty-second President of the United States. Both men were men of vision. In fact, Robert Dallek, professor of history at Boston University, in a series of lectures in the Barnes & Nobles Audio Portable Professor series, concludes that Wilson was the most visionary man to hold the presidency in the 21st century, citing specifically his Fourteen Points.
Yet Wilson ended his presidency a defeated and disappointed man. Why? Because he was not able to translate his vision into reality. On the other hand, Franklin Roosevelt, who was also a visionary, is cited by Dallek as one of the three greatest American President’s ever, citing particularly his ground breaking legislation of his first 100 days and his management of the war effort. Why? Because in addition to being a visionary, FDR was also a pragmatic politician who knew how to get things done.
A vision that pictures a destination is important, but it is not the ultimate step in an effective life. The vision must be followed by strategic planning that maps out how we will reach that destination.
Olan Hendrix captures that truth when he declares: “Strategic thinking is like showering, you have to keep doing it.” Leith Anderson expresses the same truth in his book, Leadership that Works, when he writes: “Leadership is figuring out what needs to be done and then doing it.”
Author Sam Horn suggests that in order to sell our idea – that is, in order to translate our vision into reality – we must be 100 percent clear on what he calls the nine W’s:
W1: What am I offering?
W2: What problem does my idea or offering solve?
W3: Why is it worth trying and buying?
W4: Who is my target audience?
W5: Who am I and what are my credentials?
W6: Who are my competitors and how am I different from them?
W7: What resistance or objections will people have to this?
W8: What is the purpose of my pitch?
W9: When, where, and how do I want people to take action?
If we will put our dreams through the filter of these nine W’s, we will be on our way to translating our visions into reality. The old adage had it right: “Plan your work, and then work your plan.”