In 1882, construction began on Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia. 129 years later, the cathedral remains unfinished! The church has already been named a UNESCO World Heritage site and attracts more than 2 million visitors each year. Yet, officials estimate another 15 years will be needed to complete it. That the project has attracted the interest of donors, architects, and builders for more than a century testifies to the powerful vision of its designer, Antoni Gaudí.

Gaudí’s passion for the Sagrada Familia is legendary. He spent the last 12 years of his life working exclusively on the church. He even lived on its premises during his final months. Although obsessed with the project, Gaudí had no illusions that the cathedral would be completed in his lifetime.

“There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church. I will grow old but others will come after me. What must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated.”

As the man responsible for erecting the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí paid surprisingly little heed to its “life” or actual construction. Instead, he painstakingly sketched drawings and crafted models to clarify the vision behind the cathedral, or its “spirit.” In the 85 years that have elapsed since his death, the 3D renderings Gaudí left behind have guided work on the Sagrada Familia. “They contain the entire building’s structural DNA,” explains Mark Burry, an architect with 30+ years of experience on the project. “You can extract the architectural whole even from fragments. The models are how Gaudí met the architect’s challenge: taking a complex, holistic idea and explicating it so others can understand and continue it after your death.”

Gaudí spent over a decade fine-tuning his vision, and its clarity has been the driving force behind a project that has spanned three centuries. The renowned Spanish architect understood a fundamental principle of leadership: what must precede how. Leaders have to define where they’re going before they begin to move.

Seeing the Vision Clearly Requires Your Effort
Clear visions only come into focus through sustained effort. For me, the whole process begins with questions I must ask myself. What are my deeply felt concerns? What are my values? What strengths do I have? How have my experiences shaped me? These questions uncover how I am wired and what I hold dear in life.

Once the vision starts to come together in my mind, I share it with the key people in my life. These relationships refine my vision. As the vision crystallizes, I also surround myself with inspirational resources (books, movies, paintings). In the early stages visions must be stoked, and resources stir up the passion behind them.

Seeing the Vision Clearly Specifies Your Direction
Why should we make the effort to see the vision clearly? Because vague visions cannot serve as compelling guides. Followers do not rally behind a leader’s fuzzy picture of the future. Rather, they are attracted and motivated by leaders who can paint an instantly recognizable portrait of tomorrow.

A leader’s vision acts like a transmitted satellite image; the signal strength of the vision diminishes the further away it gets from the source. As your vision spreads throughout the organization, it will fade. Thus, the more people you rely on to support your vision, the clearer it must be. A powerful vision must have sharp enough resolution that even when weakened it remains easily identifiable.

Seeing the Vision Clearly Determines Your Priorities
Every leader has limitations. Limited time, limited resources, and limited energy. As such, nobody can have it all in life. In light of our limitations, we each have to make sacrifices and scale back the scope of our ambitions. Seeing the vision clearly helps us to prioritize which opportunities to bypass and which activities deserve our dedication.

The choices we make either draw us closer to our vision or push us farther away from it. If we’re unsure of the vision, then we won’t know how to make decisions that carry us in the right direction. Clear vision illuminates the path in front of us as we select which roads to travel down in life.

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