I recently finished reading How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. In it, Adams makes a good suggestion which goes something like this: Don’t set goals in your life, rather, build systems.* And that got me thinking about the difference between Visionary leaders and Masters — Visionaries set goals, Masters build systems.
As I wrote about before, a Visionary leader does not have much to offer other than his vision. To follow the Visionary you must celebrate his vision, but after that, you’re mostly on your own. And if you do not celebrate his vision you become a pariah. In fact, you could be very good at what you do, but if you don’t celebrate or connect to the vision you’ll be ignored. And vice versa, you could be terrible at what you do, but if you do celebrate the vision you will be promoted.
Visionary led movements which never transition to Master led movements usually die with the Visionary. I grew up in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). The CRC was founded in 1857 and has roots going back to the Reformation. I don’t doubt that the CRC will still exist 100 years from now. I also know of Christian church movements which are only 40 years old. These movements are Visionary led and I don’t see them lasting another 40 years. Once the Visionary dies, the fuel feeding the movement burns out.
So I agree with Scott Adams, but I will change the wording: Don’t rely on vision, rather, build systems. Systems will outlive the Visionary. You can start with a Visionary, but don’t die with the Visionary.
A system does not mean a bureaucracy. It’s true that can happen, but a Master won’t allow it. A Master creates a system in which everyone can operate freely and not be bogged down by unnecessary rules. Systems are not void of progress; they create an environment in which progress is normal. For example, a friend of mine is trying to lose weight. In the past he would always set a goal of how many pounds he would like to lose. He would reach that goal, but never sustain the new weight. Now, he has abandoned the goal setting and is creating a system instead. The system is not pushing toward a specific weight but rather is creating a lifestyle in which a healthy weight becomes normal.
Christian Visionaries love to quote this Bible verse: Where there is no vision, the people perish… See how important vision is? It’s in the Bible! But, it’s funny because they don’t quote the whole verse. In fact, they don’t even quote the full sentence. The whole verse is this: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18 KJV) The word vision in the passage is the Hebrew word châzôn, which refers to a prophetic vision. The prophetic vision here is not some scheme conjured up by a leader, but rather it is a divine revelation from God instructing us how to live our lives. What is that divine revelation according to this verse? It is the law. And what is the law? It is a system.
A system sustains life and is superior to anyone’s vision. A system is intergenerational whereas a vision is only held passionately by the originator, and maybe by his immediate successor… maybe.
Forget the vision. Be a Master and build systems.
* “A goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, its a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal. If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or set new goals and reenter the cycle of permanent presuccess failure. All I’m suggesting is that thinking of goals and systems as very different concepts has power. Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good everytime they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.” ~Scott Adams (from the book)