Where There Is No Vision the People Perish
By Jack Kelley
If you can’t see the destination you can’t walk the path.
A man labors for years building an enterprise. (Man is used here in the inclusive sense as in Gen 2:27; “God created man in His own Image…Male and female, He created them.”) It’s a labor of love and he’s intimate with every detail. His employees think he’s a control freak or on some extended power trip. But the truth is he saw the enterprise in his mind before a single component came to be and he’s spent countless hours trying to make reality match his vision. He is sometimes gratified, more often frustrated, but never satisfied and never ever understood.
As the enterprise succeeds everyone around him prospers; his family, his employees, and most of all his customers, who experience service and value all out of proportion to price.
Whose Vision is This?
Eventually, he considers leaving. Several succession options are open to him, but look what happens. If he sells to a large company, his vision becomes a division and will never again perform as well as he made it perform. Not for lack of competent management, but for lack of vision.
If he leaves it to his offspring, they, never having birthed or grown it, and having known only the rewards of ownership, will probably milk it for all it’s worth. And it will never again perform as well as he made it perform, for the same reason.
If he takes it public, and yields control to a trust or board, even worse results are likely. Boards and committees typically don’t have vision, and too often meddle with the formula, trying to “improve” things in the name of convention or cost control. And it will never again perform…
In over 25 years of consulting, I’ve never seen a successful transfer of vision. In fact, I counsel my clients to retain control if keeping their vision alive is critical to them, or go away and let the successor’s vision (if there is one) take root.
Where’s That in the Bible?
And that led me to the realization that succession as we know it is not a biblical principle. The Jubilee Year provisions effectively curtailed succession, since all debt was forgiven, all slaves were freed, and all land reverted to its original owner every 50 years (See Leviticus 25). These laws were given to prevent empire building in an agrarian society, and were God’s antidote for human greed. (Think of debt as contract receivables, slaves as employees, and land as capital equipment for today’s parallel.)
The only thing a successor could receive was the allotment of land God Himself had given the family. Every 50 years everyone started over. There was no motivation to amass property, subjugate people, or hoard possessions in God’s economic strategy.
In the few cases where succession among His people WAS important to God, (Abraham Isaac and Jacob or Moses and Joshua) He announced it in advance, gave the same vision to each leader, and informed the people affected. This always worked when it was His plan, but without His direct involvement, it never again performed…you know the rest.
Now What was His Name?
For example, what were the works of the apostle that Peter and the others appointed to succeed Judas? (Paul was God’s choice, theirs was Matthias.) And speaking of Paul, what does the record say about the longevity of congregations he started or helped start? True, the Church as a whole survives today, but I know Paul shudders in his sandals to see the way it has changed. The only one whose name (Rome) still remains bears no resemblance to the vision Paul received from God.
Thankfully, from time to time God instills vision anew into the hearts and minds of select men and women, and revival in the congregation or in the church is the short-term effect. (Unfortunately, the long-term effect of revival in the Church is usually another new denomination—created by men applying their rules of succession.)
Leadership vs. Management
If your enterprise has somehow lost its vision and is now enduring caretaker management by you or someone else, then it’s in trouble. The only cure is to regain or replace your vision. You can’t borrow someone else’s, or even extend theirs, you can only have your own.
Talented managers are essential, but absent vision they’ll eventually “manage” the enterprise into bankruptcy. A visionary leader is that rare breed who creates reality from dreams and breathes new life into even the most weakened of organizations.