Career Growth Must Start with Vision

By Travis Brown

This year marks my tenth year earning an exclusive living as an entrepreneur, making payroll for others, while balancing our client interests from professional sports to community medicine. I feel privileged to join the ranks of prior generations that found a way to make it on their own, even despite its natural trials and tribulations. While I thoroughly enjoy being a citizen of the world in my travels, new ventures, and projects, I believe that American entrepreneurs must carry the lit torch of “exceptionalism” with extreme care. To borrow a late Governor Mel Carnahan legacy phrase, “don’t let the fire go out.”

Travis H. Brown with Governor Mel Carnahan, Bill Signing of SB518, 1999, an act promoting entrepreneurship

Increasingly, it is my responsibility to pass along to contract lobbyists, issue advocates, digital media producers, and event planners how to find, share, and expand our company vision and values. While every Aquarian job creator has at least one part dreamer already built in, it is important to realize that most of us are not born with such a landscape. Absorbing, learning, and applying a worthy vision comes from much customer research, strategic insights within your supply chain, and applied experience within your niche of professional service.

I had the honor of working for several visionary leaders in their days. While at the Monsanto Company, there was no doubt that executives like Bob Shapiro, Hendrik Verfaillie, Hugh Grant, and Robb Fraley laid down an audacious yet inspiring path for their employees to follow. Yet, if you look deeper into every corporate history, you begin to realize others before them, such as Dick Mahoney, Ernie Jaworski, and Will Carpenter may have secured such a foundation with dedicated research, a strong cultural history of results, and a focus on creating their own future.

When I mentor leaders today, sometimes others see the pursuit of a vision somehow as a license toward free roamingJames C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras may have said it best when they outlined what real visionaries do to make their cultures great, in Built to Last:  Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Visionary,” we learned, does not mean soft and undisciplined. Quite the contrary. Because the visionary companies have such clarity about who they are, what they’re all about, and what they’re trying to achieve, they tend to not have much room for people unwilling or unsuited to their demanding standards.

They go on to outline four common characteristics of these driven cultures:

1)     Fervently held ideology (like Wal-Mart)

2)     Indoctrination (like Walt Disney)

3)     Tightness of Fit (like Nordstrom)

4)     Elitism

If you do not have this management book on your reference shelf, I recommend pinging itunes for it. Having lobbied for such companies as Procter & Gamble, mentioned in the book, it seems to me right on target.

I have found it very useful in the strategic planning process to always start with a values or vision conversation, before moving to strategy, tactics, operations, and best practices. If you have an approach that has worked well for you, feel free to share it with me at @pelopidas.