Thanksgiving and a Vision Come True

If you live in the United States, you may have spent half of last week (and likely most of the weekend) surrounded by rich food, even richer desserts, and a trove of family, friends, and acquaintances you may not see the other 11 months of the year. Thanksgiving is an American holiday with a global message, a focus on being grateful for what we have and those with whom we share it. For many millions, though, it’s a prelude to Christmas and the stress that comes with multiple shopping lists and the pressure to save money while piling up as many gifts as possible per person. Though I hope you all ascribe to the former vice the latter, I hope even more so that your Thanksgiving was fulfilling in the end. In my case, it was beyond so. Not because the turkey was that much better (it was pretty good) or that we saved a ton on Black Friday (never tried it, never will), but because I finally lived out a vision of life harbored in the depths of my heart and mind for more than a decade.

Does your family save the wishbone? The tradition is older than the holiday itself, going back to Roman times. Two diners grab hold of of the triangular clavicle from the front of the turkey and pull apart, each hoping to have in-hand the bigger of the two pieces. Whoever wins that bigger piece has their wish granted. You may scoff but my wife’s family saves the wishbone every year and a couple always breaks it. We’ve split the wishbone many a Thanksgiving before—and for me, the wish was always the same. Moving around as a military family makes for some unique life experiences, but also results in you missing many holidays and family gatherings you would otherwise take for granted. And it’s difficult to establish traditions when you move every couple years; your circle of friends changes and your family can’t always afford to chase you around the country (or world, for that matter). We’d always talked about “settling down” after my time in uniform was done. Buying a house with space for kids and dogs to run. Finding jobs that afforded new freedom by keeping us in the same place. Being another epicenter of activity for a family all situated within four hours’ drive of one another. I’d maintained this dream for more than 10 years, returning to it every Thanksgiving and Christmas—especially those where we were apart from parents, grandparents, and extended family. I would imagine myself at the head of a long dining table, wielding a large carving knife over an unsuspecting yet fully-cooked turkey. Yes, I would sometimes picture Clark Griswold of National Lampoon’s fame … but without all the drama and trees-on-fire effect. For years my wife and I split the wishbone and this was the image I had in mind. Then for the next 364 days, I would visit that vision amidst the bustle of our daily lives.

I had become so used to dreaming it, not living it, that I missed much of the anticipation leading up to this year’s Thanksgiving. Nearing the end of my last assignment away from home, the last six months have been a whirlwind—we bought a house and moved most of the household. With our home coming together, we were eager to host Thanksgiving this year for anyone willing to make the drive. My wife moved ahead of me, so she was responsible for most of the planning as I continued work on the west coast. As everything came together, I remained busy and didn’t focus on what all of this meant. I had been consumed by this vision for so long, I hadn’t thought about it finally coming true. On Thursday afternoon, somewhere around 1pm, I sat down at the head of an eight-person dining table (connected loosely to a card table with three more) with turkey, ham, and sides arrayed end-to-end and all eyes looking back at me. In that moment, calmed in a moment staring back at my family, sharing my home, all around the table, I realized how powerful a vision I’d had all those years and everything I had done to enable it, without knowing in many cases. That vision had given me meaning and a direction personally and professionally that couldn’t be matched with simple language.

After everyone had enjoyed their seconds and thirds, and a slice or two of pie, before the naps kicked in and football-watching began in earnest, my wife and I met in the kitchen and she pointed to the wishbone on the now wholly ravaged turkey. She asked if I was going to cut it out so we could take hold and make our wishes. I looked at the bird a moment then turned back, now knowing what to say. I didn’t know what to wish for. What I’d envisioned for so long had come true. It was someone else’s turn to take hold of the wishbone and see their own vision, to think long and hard about what they saw long-term for themselves and their family, the dream that would carry them through each day. Until one day, for them, that vision comes true too.

Enabled Word exists because of the power of lasting vision, and the power that comes when organizations craft such a vision then enable their teams to find meaning in its achievement. This holiday season, take time to wind down from a busy year and step back to be grateful for those around you. At work and at home. Never take your teams for granted. And never take for granted the power vision can have in everyone’s life.

The Power of Lasting Vision

I’m always interested in stories of vision and focused leadership and their power to overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable. I just finished reading Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance, a book that chronicles Musk’s transition from a rambunctious child adventurer to one of the world’s best-known entrepreneurs and leaders in the tech industry. Say what you will about Musk as a person (he is known as particularly difficult to work with), this is a man and now icon of Silicon Valley corporate tradition who had a vision and believed in that vision with every fiber of his being. The power of that vision–a new energy paradigm and humanity’s transition to an “interplanetary species”–carried Tesla Motors and SpaceX through financial crises and near bankruptcy to lead the world in electric cars and affordable (relatively) travel to and from space. He is worth billions today and no longer draws laughs when he talks about the logistics of establishing a Martian colony.

Right. So most of us aren’t Elon Musk. And most of the organizations we work in aren’t reinventing industries or creating new technologies from scratch. But that doesn’t negate the valuable lesson in Musk’s approach to vision. As Vance’s work outlines, Musk was a tinkerer and dreamer from an early age. He was fascinated with space and adventure and was an avid reader. So for Musk, it was natural to think big and not worry about what could go wrong or what was merely ‘possible’. I think most of us start out that way only to have those aspirations suppressed over time by the onset of adulthood and the pressure we all feel to “settle down”. We need a “real job” to support our family and live a comfortable lifestyle. Then the name of the game becomes survival. We go to work, come home. Go to work, come home. Five days a week (at least), 50-52 weeks a year. If the organization we’re part of hasn’t developed a lasting vision, then over time it becomes more difficult to find meaning in what we’re doing. And without meaning, well … then eventually we’re only there for the paycheck and all the potential the organization once had dwindles tragically. Whether you lead a team of two or two million, think of the value you could provide for your customers and the world around you … not to mention motivation for your employees, if you had a lasting vision. Elon Musk had such a vision and it remains a powerful one. So much so that people jumped at the chance to work for him despite the prospect of 18-hour days and seven-day weeks. To this day, as Vance points out, employees who left Musk’s companies–including many who were fired–remain loyal to the man they believe is leading Earth to a future beyond this century.

Now I have to be clear. I am not advocating for you to emulate every part of Musk’s leadership style. In the vein of Steve Jobs, Musk is known for berating associates who failed to deliver on a design milestone or production target. His short fuse and ensuing temper would lead to outbursts via email, social media, or in front of a crowd. Interacting with a leader, let alone a CEO who leads millions, should never be an exercise in minefield navigation. Having a forward-looking, motivating vision for your organization is never license to treat people poorly. What it is, though …

… is the power to pull people together. To clarify your collective purpose under a banner that represents your team’s potential and what everyone should strive for. But simply having a vision and writing it down isn’t enough. Once you’ve pictured the future, you must teach that future to your team. Teach them their history, where the organization came from … and your vision, where the organization is going. Most importantly, teach them how their role contributes to getting there. It doesn’t matter the role they play, or how much authority they have in the hierarchy … each person deserves the chance to share in that vision and lead their part of the organization toward a better future. That’s how you help your people find meaning in what they do, and how you start to build a strong foundation for something that’s meant to last.