When Robert Mondavi passed away May 16, the news media and wine experts credited him with "reinventing the American wine industry" (BusinessWeek.com, 5/19/08) and inspiring Napa Valley vintners to make a world-class product. A little over a decade ago, a friend in the industry had invited me to visit some of his clients in the Napa Valley. The highlight was a small, private lunch with Mondavi and his sons. Mondavi was in his 80s and had the energy of a 22-year-old entering the job market for the first time. I believed then—and I know it now—that the secret to Mondavi's success was that he had a big dream for himself and his company: to put Napa Valley on the map alongside the great winemakers in Europe. Getting anything "on the map" requires a bold vision and a leader confident enough to express it consistently.
The seminal 1994 book Built to Last introduced a catchy term to the business lexicon: the big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG). All companies have goals, "but there is a difference between merely having a goal and becoming committed to a huge, daunting challenge—like a big mountain to climb," the book explains. According to co-author Jim Collins, a BHAG creates immense team spirit. If your vision isn't energizing, you have little hope of realizing the greatness of your own potential or inspiring your team members to reach theirs.
Make No Little Plans
The renowned American architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham once said: "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood." This quote holds the key to inspiration. You can see it articulated in Mondavi's words and in the speeches of many of the world's most successful leaders. In 1961 few people believed that in their lifetime men would step foot on the moon, nor did they believe we should spend the resources on it. But President John F. Kennedy realized the power of a bold vision to galvanize a generation into breaking through the limits of what they thought possible. Kennedy expressed the ambitious goal to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind…" Scientists may have rolled their eyes after Kennedy's announcement, but they got to work on it.
Have a Grand Purpose
Everything starts with a vision: finding a good hire, motivating a team, or creating a successful sales presentation. The difference between average communicators and inspiring leaders is the latter frame their vision around a grand purpose. Express goals that enlarge people's vision. When I interviewed Starbucks (SBUX) Chief Executive Howard Schultz, he reminded me that Starbucks began as a small Seattle store selling coffee beans. It was Schultz who returned from a trip to Italy determined to create "a third place" between work and home where customers could sip lattes, espressos, and cappuccinos. You see, Schultz wasn't satisfied with just being comfortable. He wanted to take the company to places others never thought possible.
A Scoop of Vision
Bold visions are magical. Your listeners might be skeptical at first, but they soon find ways to accomplish the dream. In a recent piece (see BusinessWeek.com, 5/23/08), Doug Ducey, former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery, discussed his departure after the chain's merger with Kahala (KAHL) and his move to a startup. I interviewed Ducey when he was still in the ice cream business. He talked about the power of a big vision. In 1999, Cold Stone had 74 stores. Ducey wanted to expand to 1,000 stores in five years, an ambitious goal by anyone's standards. According to Ducey, his goal had little power to inspire. But his vision—to create the ultimate ice cream experience—did. Although employees, partners, and franchise owners were skeptical at the time, Cold Stone did hit the milestone. "It was a grand vision that would require hard work. It would get us up early, keep us up late, and tap all of our energies and skills," said Ducey. Grand visions stir up a team's collective energy, ideas, and creativity.
Whether it's wine, coffee, ice cream, or any other product or service, a bold vision sets momentum in motion. It instills confidence and unleashes the potential in yourself and your team. Think big and put yourself and your business on the map.