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Full Steam Ahead!

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The first edition of Full Steam Ahead!—an international bestseller that was translated into twenty-two languages—pioneered the concept of vision as the vital ingredient for truly satisfying long-term success. In this new edition, Ken Blanchard and Jesse Lyn Stoner offer new content and new resources to help you create and communicate a vision that will radically transform your work and your life.

When do we need vision? During times of growth, change, or opportunity—so that we know we’re headed in the right direction. We also need vision during times of uncertainty—when we’ve lost confidence in our leaders, our institutions, or ourselves. Instead of focusing on “what’s next,” we need to refocus on “what’s first.” Getting back to the basics means knowing who you are, where you’re going, and what will guide your journey—having a vision. This is the place from which we must start (or revisit) if we want to thrive. When work is meaningful and connected to what we truly desire, we tap into a productive and creative power stronger than we ever imagined.

Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner show how to create a vision for your organization, and for your own life, that will unleash your power and potential and allow you to go Full Steam Ahead! They offer numerous examples of effective visions and show exactly how to create an enduring vision that will guide you on a daily basis.

The lessons of Full Steam Ahead! are revealed through the inspirational story of two people who are able to create a vision for the place they work and for their own lives. Together they discover the three elements of a compelling vision: a significant purpose, a picture of the future, and clear values. By understanding how a vision is created, communicated, and lived, they discover how to make a vision come alive.

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19 Chapters

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A Proper Ending


I stood in disbelief as a cold wind lashed across my face. I cant believe hes gone, I thought. I couldnt imagine a world without Jim in it. Yet, here I stood at an open grave on this gloomy winter day. I looked around at those gathered with me. They appeared to be as shocked as I felt. Jim had meant so much to all of us.

As Jims daughter Kristen read the eulogy, the familiar words comforted me, and I could almost sense his presence.

Jim Carpenter was a loving teacher and example of simple truths, whose leadership helped him and others awaken to the presence of God in their lives. He was a caring child of God, a son, brother, spouse, father, grandfather, father-in-law, brother-in-law, godfather, uncle, cousin, friend, and business colleague, who strove to find a balance between success and significance. He was able to say no in a loving manner to people and projects that got him off purpose. He was a person of high energy who was able to see the positive in any event or situation. No matter what happened, he could find a learning or a message in it. Jim valued integrity; his actions were consistent with his words; and he was a mean, lean, 185-pound, flexible golfing machine. He will be missed because wherever he went, he made the world a better place by his having been there.


A Real Beginning


I stood before the doors of Carpenter Insurance Agency, at the threshold of a new world. At thirty-eight years old, I had never worked a day outside the house. I had been a top student in college, heading toward a rewarding career. During a summer internship at an accounting firm, Id met Doug, a handsome, up-and-coming CPA. Our plan was to marry as soon as I graduated. Then Id go to graduate school, earn an MBA, and get a great job. Wed have a couple of children, and with our two incomes wed have a large house, a nanny, fun vacations, and a great life.

We did marry and I did begin an MBA program at a prestigious school. But two things happened that werent in the plan: we got pregnant unexpectedly—twins, no less!—and Doug got sick. Shortly before the twins were born, Doug started coming home from work exhausted. At first we thought he was experiencing sympathy pregnancy symptoms. But when muscle weakness and cramps started interfering with his tennis game, he decided to see a doctor. After months of tests, specialists, and anxiety, Doug was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrigs Disease). By the time the twins were eighteen months old, I was a widow.


What Is Vision, Anyway?


Wednesday, I arrived precisely at 6:30 A.M. There was Jim at the back table. He immediately began talking as though yesterdays conversation had just occurred.

I knew I was onto something by the tremendous response I got from my first voice mail message. Let me tell you a bit about the history of our company so youll understand what I was looking for.

My father was an amazing man. He started this agency from nothing—sheer guts, loans, and a belief in people. Everyone adored Dad—the employees, our customers—especially the widows. He had a tremendous effect on people and made them feel important. There was a real family feeling and joy in the agency. It sparkled.

It sounds like your dad was a very special person, I said.

He certainly was, said Jim. When my father was president, there was a tremendous amount of energy, excitement, and passion. Everyone knew they were making a difference, building a company that provided a real service to the community.

And now? I asked.

Its not the same. I was proud to work my way up through the ranks. I took the helm a little over ten years ago when Dad was getting ready to retire. We had grown quite a bit, and I think he was frustrated that he didnt know everybody anymore, including the customers. Unfortunately, I didnt get much of his guidance during the transition, as he died shortly after I took over.


Element 1: Significant Purpose


Thats great, Ellie, Jim said the next morning when I told him what I had learned. The advent of the steam engine introduced a strong source of energy and power and created a transformation. Equating the power of vision with the power of the steam engine makes sense.

Now Ive got something to share with you, he continued. Remember when you pressed me to say what full steam ahead really means?

Yes. You said it means being fully powered, knowing where youre going, and moving ahead full force.

Thats right. I also said it means being so clear about your purpose, so committed to it, and so sure about your ability to accomplish it that you move ahead decisively despite any obstacles.

I remember, I said with a smile.

Well, I woke up with an aha. I realized that purpose is an important part of vision. Dad was passionate about our purpose, and he made sure that everyone in the agency understood and supported it. I think it was one of the secrets to Dads vision.

Tell me more, I invited.

By purpose, I mean understanding what we are here for, why we exist. Purpose means understanding what business we are really in so that we all can focus our efforts in support of that purpose.


Element 2: Picture of the Future


The following day I met with Jim bright and early.

Having a purpose really does make a vision come alive, I said, reflecting on my experience with the accounting department clarifying our purpose. But it seems to me theres more to vision than purpose. A purpose explains who you are and why you exist, but it doesnt explain where youre going.

Yes, Jim replied. A clear vision has to talk about going somewhere.

What about the Apollo Moon Project? I wondered. Some people use it as an example of a vision.

You mean to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s? That was a real statement of a destination, said Jim.

Yes. Alex is studying this in school right now. He told me that when John F. Kennedy initiated that project, the technology to achieve it did not even exist! NASA overcame what seemed like insurmountable obstacles to achieve that spectacular result.

I bet there isnt a person who was alive at that time who doesnt remember what he or she was doing the day of the first moon landing, Jim remarked.


Element 3: Clear Values


I wished Jim a safe and fun journey and headed to work. Not only was it Friday, but it was tax day—my final deadline. Quite a busy day. Just before I headed home, I sat down to relax for a moment and played Jims morning message. As I listened, I discovered the third element of a vision.

Good morning, everyone. This is Jim. Im looking forward to a fabulous trip this weekend—my annual ski trip with dear friends Carolyn and I have known since college. I so look forward to this time, as it nurtures my values and I always come back refreshed.

Id like to read you my values:

I value spiritual peace. I know that Im living by this value when I experience the presence of that which is greater than myself and feel that unconditional love.

I feel a lot of that during our reunions. I get up early every morning and enter my day slowly, and really get a sense of being at peace.

Then my second value:

I value joy. I know that I am living by this value anytime I am feeling playful and anytime I wake up feeling grateful for my blessings, the beauty around me, and the people in my life.


Vision Defined


At our next meeting, Jim and I reflected on all the things wed learned about vision. We were feeling pleased with ourselves.

I think weve finally uncovered the key elements, Jim said.

The three key elements of a compelling vision:
Significant Purpose
A Picture of the Future
Clear Values

Would it be a compelling vision if it didnt have all three elements? I wondered.

I dont think so, Jim replied. In the example of the Apollo Moon Project, NASA certainly had a clear picture of the end result, even though the process to achieve it was not clear. The picture focused NASAs energy, and its people accomplished amazing results—all because of the powerful picture of the future. But since that time, they have never re-created that energy or momentum. The power ended.

True, I remarked. I would have thought they would have landed on Mars by now.

I think its because the underlying purpose was never clearly agreed on. Why were we doing it? Were we doing it to win the space race, to begin the Star Wars space defense initiative, or in the spirit of Star Trek to boldly go where no one has gone before? And because there was no significant purpose, there was nothing to guide future decisions. NASA has shown neither clear direction nor outstanding performance since.


Blurry Vision


I had been working at the agency for over two months and was feeling pretty good. I liked working. I had a sense of accomplishment, liked the people I worked with, and felt good about bringing home a paycheck. My morning discussions with Jim were especially enriching.

Early Monday, I was sharing my reflections with Jim when my mobile phone rang. It was my son, Alex.

Mom, dont be mad at me, he began. I got in a fight with some boys on the way to school. Im okay. I promise. Im with a police officer right now. She wants to talk with you.

I caught my breath. What was going on?

Your son appears to be all right, the officer said. But he lost consciousness briefly and has a cut on his forehead. An ambulance is on the way. You can meet us at the hospital. Id like to talk with you.

Feeling a rising panic, I hung up the phone.

Alex is hurt. Im going to the hospital, I said.

I stood up quickly, probably too quickly, because I got momentarily dizzy and had to sit back down.

You dont look like you should be driving, Jim responded. Wheres your car? Ill drive you there.


You Can’t Get There Unless You’re Here


After breakfast I dropped off the twins at school and headed to work. Later in the morning, I sent Jim an e-mail thanking him for his help and telling him briefly about the conversation with my children. I also said that Id like to talk with him and asked him to call me at home after work.

That evening, Jim and I had a long talk on the phone. I told him in detail about my conversations with Jen and Alex, how I had taken a hard look in the mirror at myself as a mother, and about our new family vision. He was supportive and impressed. We agreed that an important part of having a vision was to be honest about the current realities. In fact, an honest and accurate assessment of the present is as important as a vision of the future. They go together.

You cant get to the future without being present, Jim said.

How true! I said with a laugh. I heard a beep on the line.

Im getting another call that I need to take, said Jim, but it will be brief. Can I put you on hold for a minute? I promise this wont take long.


20/20 Vision: Company, Team, and Personal Visions


Our Tuesday morning discussions became more focused. Jim was considering his vision for the agency. At the same time, I was working on my vision for my life.

I had gotten to know Jim and his family much better. Alex was at Jims house frequently visiting Kristen. While dropping off Alex and picking him up, I often chatted with Jims wife, Carolyn. One afternoon as I waited for Alex, Carolyn confided in me.

I know you and Jim are talking about vision, she said. This is so important for him. Until he creates his own vision for the agency, hell always be living in his fathers shadow.

Shortly after my conversation with Carolyn, I was chatting with Jim about vision.

I think its easier to have a vision when everything is going well, I said. When I was younger, I thought I knew where I was going and was sure I was on the right path. I married, had children, and things were going according to plan. But when Doug died, I was overwhelmed by grief. I couldnt admit it, but I was also angry at him for dying and leaving me alone with so much responsibility. I dedicated the next thirteen years of my life to being a mother. It was the only identity I had. Thinking back, I realize I didnt really have a vision. It was just a plan I hadnt given much thought to. If Id had a vision, it could have guided me through those hard times, helped me create a life for myself, and helped me be a better mother. I would have noticed sooner that my long hours at work were taking me in the wrong direction from my family.


Creative Tension


I had already discovered the importance of focusing my vision and, at the same time, being honest about the present. I now realized that when I was willing to live with the tension this generated, opportunities seemed to appear almost as if by magic. Of course, admitting the truth about the present sometimes made me uncomfortable. It had been painful to acknowledge that I had fallen short in my role as a mother. But by being clear about what was important and being honest about the present, I was able to make a shift. Our family was thriving in wonderful new ways.

The same was true for my work. I hadnt wanted to be honest with myself that I wasnt happy in the accounting department because I was afraid it would mean Id have to look for another employer—not to mention lose my enriching conversations with Jim. But as I maintained my focus on what was important and also what was real, an unexpected opportunity in the marketing department surfaced.

My newly developing relationship with Sam was also a mystery to me. Why had someone so interesting suddenly appeared in my life when no one had appealed to me for fifteen years?


From Vision to Reality: The Three Hows


Jim and I achieved what we had initially agreed to do: We identified the three key elements of a compelling vision. We were both pleased with what we had accomplished.

One Tuesday morning, we sat quietly looking at each other over our cups of coffee.

Its one thing to identify the vision, Jim remarked. Its another to make it happen. Im clear about my vision for the agency, but most people in the company are not on board yet. Ive been talking about it a lot, but I dont think people are really getting it the way I want them to. I want them to be excited about it. I want them to feel a sense of ownership for making it come alive.

So youre saying that coming up with a great vision that includes all three elements is not enough, I said.

Right, said Jim. Ive thought about having marketing create something so everyone could have a copy.

Id enjoy working on that project, I replied. But Im not sure it would give people the sense of ownership youre looking for.

Youre right, said Jim. If people dont buy into it, its likely to be framed and forgotten.


How It’s Created


The next time we met, Jim began the conversation by saying, I understand that others need to be involved in shaping the vision. Im okay with sharing my vision with others and listening to their thoughts and reactions. But how much do I allow others to have input? Im pretty passionate about it. To be honest, I dont know how much Im willing to change it.

I thought about the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It really wasnt just his vision alone. His vision expressed the hopes and dreams of millions of people.

I think its your job as the leader of this company to ensure theres a shared vision, to champion the vision, but not to own the vision, I offered. Everyone in the company must own the vision. Otherwise, its just your vision and not a shared vision. The more involved people are in creating it, the more they will feel a sense of ownership—then its not just your vision; its everyones vision.

That makes sense, Jim replied. But also I think leaders are supposed to know where theyre going. If I dont tell them what the vision is, theyll lose confidence in me. On the other hand, if they dont agree with my vision, it doesnt matter how passionate I am—its not going to happen.


How It’s Communicated


One morning Jim and I were chatting about the length of the vision statement, which was almost two pages long.

Its hard to remember all two pages, Jim commented.

Once you really understand it, you dont have to come up with all the words, I said. You can create a rallying call. Do you recall the old commercials for Ford Motor Company when they were beginning to seriously compete with Japan? I asked.

I sure do, he responded. Quality Is Job One.

I grew up in Michigan, I continued, so Im very aware of the automotive industry. I was impressed with their rallying call. To most people Quality Is Job One sounds like theyre saying, Quality is the most important job. And they are. But its also a message that conveys deeper meaning. Most people dont know this, but Job One is the term for the first car off the assembly line. This car has to be perfect because it is used as the standard against which all of the other cars are built. When workers at Ford Motor first heard Quality Is Job One, what they really heard was that every car they produced had to be perfect, held to the standard of the first job—the first car off the assembly line. They had a clear picture of what quality looks like. The rallying call also told them that they are going to seriously compete with the Japanese market in the area of quality. There was a lot of meaning attached to their rallying call, and it connected them to a shared vision. That was the year that the Ford Taurus overtook the Honda Accord as the best-selling car in that class.


How It’s Lived


One Tuesday morning Jim and I talked again about how articulating a compelling vision and coming up with a catchy rallying call were not enough.

This is where the rubber meets the road, Jim said. How is your vision lived on a daily basis? There is no doubt in my mind that once you identify your vision, you have to start living it immediately and behaving consistently with the intention of that vision.

Thats so true, I said. As soon as I realized I had been ignoring my childrens needs, I had to stop. I couldnt say, Ill start being a better mother next week. Its not easy, because sometimes it means making tough decisions. But I learned that the best thing for me, my children, my friends, and my coworkers was to live my values and to make choices based on them.

I wish I could do that with my weight issues, Jim said. Even though one of my values is health, I tend to have an Ill start next week attitude on that one. Then again, everyone gains a little weight when they get older.

What is your exercise program? I asked.


Staying the Course


Sam and I had been seeing each other regularly for a while. I enjoyed his company. His quick wit made me laugh, and his inquisitive intelligence often gave me pause to think. When I introduced him to the children, he was friendly but took his cues from them regarding how involved he would be with our family. I was impressed and appreciative of his sensitivity to their needs. I also appreciated that he was interested in my work and, having read some of my writing for the marketing department, was quite encouraging. What surprised me was what little interest he had in the topic of vision and the conversations Jim and I were having. Maybe its because hes jealous of Jim, I wondered. Finally, I asked him.

Sam, Ive noticed you seem disinterested when I talk about vision. When I bring it up, you listen for a few moments and then change the subject. Im wondering why.

He hesitated a moment and said, Ellie, I understand how important this is to you, but to be honest, I have a cynical attitude toward visioning. Ten years ago I quit my job as a senior manager in a large corporation during a siege known as redeployment, replete with vision and values workshops, many of which I was asked to lead. It was a farce. The company was downsizing, people were losing their jobs, and those who stayed felt bad for their friends and colleagues and insecure about their own jobs. The platitudes in the vision meant nothing. As a senior manager, I felt like we were trying to sell them a bill of goods instead of helping people deal with the reality of what was happening. Being part of the charade got to be too much for me, so I left.


From Success to Significance


With its vision guiding the agency over the next ten years, Carpenter Insurance tripled in size. The agency built a larger, beautiful building, opened offices in two other states, and developed a national reputation within the insurance industry. It was featured in several books, articles, and documentaries on topics such as companies that have sustained great results and the best companies to work for.

As the agency grew, Marsha was appointed CFO and became a trusted advisor and confidant to Jim. Although it was a larger company and more complex in many ways, the vision continued to guide Carpenter, and the agency was able to maintain the culture by ensuring the values were lived. The performance review system included an evaluation not only of business results but also of the managers ability to communicate effectively, develop a strong team, work collaboratively across department lines, and resolve conflict effectively. No one was promoted unless their behaviors were aligned with the companys values.


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