At one time, Star Wars was just an idea in the mind of George Lucas, but now the Force is as strong as ever. J.K. Rowling had a vision for Harry Potter, and now he’s an iconic part of our society. John F. Kennedy had a vision for sending a man to the moon. Ronald Reagan envisioned the fall of the Berlin Wall before it crumbled. Steve Jobs imagined the iPod and iPhone long before the world was addicted to them. Abraham Lincoln envisioned a united America. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream about equality. These were true visionary leaders because their visions were made real.
Most dentist-entrepreneurs might think they have a vision, but they’d be wrong. They don’t have a vision. A vision is far more than words — a vision contains a deep emotional component. A vision has a deep existential component. A vision stirs the soul.
A vision is visceral: a true vision comes not only comes from the head, but the heart and the guts. And when you speak from the head, heart, and guts, your vision is expressed with unadulterated passion and conviction. When you speak from here, the vision has true power — the power to change the face of things.
The vision becomes a leader’s driving force. The vision takes possession of a leader’s being. When leaders speak their true vision, they create a possibility for the future that others can see, too — and most importantly, to which others are willing to make a commitment.
When a true vision is vocalized, people are inspired. People are moved: they’re emboldened to take action; they’re stirred at their core. It is a phenomenological event in which the listener’s internal chatter stops, and the leader’s voice dominates; it inspires passion and purpose.
What stops leaders from speaking their true vision? First and foremost, they are restrained by their concerns about looking bad or atypical. They are afraid to “let it go.” They put checks and limits on themselves. Their minds focus on holding it together, not stepping out of their identity or ego. In other words, their speaking comes only from their head. When it comes only from the head, it is bland, insipid, and weak. There is no passion. No one is inspired. No one is moved.
A truly visionary leader is fixated on their vision. They think about it constantly. A vision isn’t something they take off the shelf and replay when needed. A visionary leader doesn’t need to rehearse their vision or write it down — it comes from deep inside them, and can be expressed in many different ways. A vision is generative, not remembered.
A true vision is something a leader must fulfill. It isn’t optional: it’s crucial. A true vision isn’t based on reason. It isn’t based on ambition, self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, or self-glorification. A true vision is something beyond the self.
A true vision is not created by an individual, but rather, it is a message that passes through an individual: the leader becomes the medium of the vision. The vision has a unifying a spiritual component — it touches the deepest parts of people. A true vision changes how people think, and motivates them to act. A true vision paints a picture of a future that will affect the lives of others — not just the business or the owners of the business.
A leader becomes a prophet of the vision — a goal for the future that the leader feels must be fulfilled. The vision brings a sense of righteousness and virtue; it heralds a future that promises justice and fairness.
Most dentist-entrepreneurs do not have a real vision, and therefore they are not truly visionary leaders. Most visions I hear today are about increasing EBITDA, or the number of locations, or percentage growth — those are not visions, they are goals. What I don’t hear is how their vision will impact the greater good, or change the way dentistry is delivered, or decrease disease in their communities, or ensure the people who work for them have a better life.
Years ago, when I first spoke with Rick Workman, Steve Thorne, and Steve Bilt, I heard truly visionary leaders. All three of these leaders were unconditionally committed to doing something that would impact the lives of dentists, staff, and patients. These leaders’ speaking was authentic; they were passionate about the difference they wanted to make, and they were unconditionally committed. So when I am asked, “Why are these leaders so successful?” the answer is obvious: they are visionary leaders, and that made — and keeps making — all the difference.
The more real the vision, the more powerful the leader. It isn’t any more complicated than that.