It is not the responsibility of the CEO to create the institutional vision. It is her responsibility to see that it is created. A big distinction.
The next question, of course, becomes how best to create this institutional vision. I would quietly suggest that the CEO who decides to create the vision herself causes many problems – from bad content to poor ownership with the folks who will work to achieve the vision. What we should be focused on is a search for vision that is shared among institutional leaders and the many constituents who care deeply about the institution’s future.
Engaging the institution’s internal constituencies will help ensure that a vision’s aspirations, goals, and objectives will be ambitious yet achievable. These are the folks who see to it that your institution will fully live-into its compelling vision. And engaging your institution’s external constituencies will help ensure that the vision matters to the outside world. These individuals provide the needed context and perspective as you seek to answer the crucial question: “Why should anyone care about our plans for the future?” In addition, engaging external constituencies meaningfully in the visioning process gives you the opportunity to establish valuable partnerships which will provide the expertise and resources needed to implement bold plans.
There are many opportunities to engage others in this search for a shared vision. Facilitating discussions with governing and foundation boards, advisory groups, faculty and staff councils, or other important groups around institutional strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and desired results is a good starting point. Establishing task forces and committees to reflect on institutional values and guiding principles is another. Conducting individual or small group discussions with donors and other partners focused on your institution’s future and their interests is yet another way to begin the process of seeking a shared vision. All with many happy, longer-term benefits.
No, it’s not the CEO’s job to create the institution’s vision. It’s the CEO’s job to see that a compelling vision is created. And the best way to do that is to establish a process in which we ask humbly what others think.