Harnessing the Power of Vision

Warwick Fairfax

October 12, 2021

Note: This blog is excerpted from Chapter 9 of my book Crucible Leadership: Embrace Your Trials to Lead a life of Significance, which comes out Oct. 19 from Mount Tabor Media and Morgan James Publishing. In this piece, I discuss the lessons I learned from my failed $2.25 billion takeover bid of my family’s 150-year-old media company – and also what my experience can teach all of us about the importance of crafting and pursuing a unique personal vision rooted in our passions, talents and beliefs.

The experiences and travails during my days at John Fairfax Ltd. have affected me in many ways. They have affected my view of myself, my view of vision, and my understanding of what it takes to make vision a reality. They have also affected how I help others.

At a personal level, my “failure”—which I consider my life’s greatest crucible experience—hurt me deeply and has humbled me, but ultimately, I believe it has made me wiser and put me on a better path. What was searing was the repeated thought that I had this great vision, this God-given vision as I believed it was, and I let God down.

John Fairfax Ltd. could have been so great, and I blew it. How did I blow it? Count the ways. Either I blew it by not being the take-charge leader the job needed, or I blew it by being too impatient for change and not really giving other family members involved in the family business a chance to embrace the vision I was trying to make a reality. Perhaps I would have found some commonality between my vision and their visions. I did not ask, so I do not know. Either way, I failed in my mission to bring the vision to reality.

More Lessons Learned

But what was worse, in some ways, was what I learned about myself. That was not fun. I learned that perhaps I had a hero complex, the desire to be the crusading avenger who saves the day.

I had also made assumptions about the rest of my family, who they were and what they were about, based on others’ perceptions. I had not tested these assumptions by talking to my relatives myself and listening to them. There was resoluteness there, but there was also the other side of that, which was stubbornness. These reflections about who I was, my character and my motives, were not fun or easy. But part of living life well is learning from your failures and living life in light of these lessons.

So what are some of the lessons learned? You have to be humble. You cannot have this ego complex that you are going to be the savior of the world. That is dangerous and does not often work out well. You can hurt a lot of people while you are trying to save the world. There is another saying, “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.” I may have been trying to do the right thing. But a lot of bad things seemed to happen: to me, to others, and to the company. Having a “save the world” ego complex can be dangerous. And it is all-too-often the fuel of a devastating crucible.

You cannot inherit a vision. Just like you cannot inherit your parents’ faith, you cannot inherit your parents’ vision. I tried it and failed. If it is not your vision, no matter how noble it is, do not try to make it your vision. If you do, you risk facing a life-changing crucible of your own creation, causing pain in your own life and the lives of others.

For this reason, it’s important to have an accurate assessment of yourself, a healthy self-awareness. As a leader, as a human being, it is not enough to have a great and worthwhile vision. You have to ask yourself, in all humility, Am I the right person to make that vision happen? Do I have the skills and the gifts, let alone the requisite experience, to bring that vision to reality? How has this experience with vision shaped me and molded me?  

Funnily enough, I am still attracted to vision. These days, though, I am more cautious regarding my own role in a worthy vision. I no longer see myself as always central to the picture. I am happy to help others with their visions. I am older and hopefully wiser. I have a few battle scars. I am more realistic, both about the challenges of making a vision a reality and about who I am and who I am not. But I have not given up on vision.

As I have said, I hate cynicism and defeatism—the sense that it is hopeless, nobody cares, why bother. Fortunately, through God’s grace, I have not become world-weary. I am still idealistic. I still have hope. I still believe the impossible is possible. I am committed to the truth that crucible experiences can be overcome if we learn the lessons of them, craft a vision to move beyond them that is rooted in our gifts and passions, and dedicate ourselves to making that vision a reality as we pursue a life of significance.

What It Takes to Find Your Own Vision

In my capacity as a coach and consultant, when people ask me for advice on job transition, or if people who have sold businesses come to me looking for a new direction, I have a paradigm I use. I ask them about their gifts and abilities. I ask them about their passions (that is, what activities or causes they are excited about). If they are Christians, I ask them how their planned new job or activity would advance God’s Kingdom. (If they are not believers, I might ask them how that job or activity would fulfil a higher purpose.) So, if that new job or activity is in the center of their gift set, in an arena they are off-the-charts passionate about, and they believe it advances God’s Kingdom or fulfils a higher purpose, my belief is that they will feel fulfilled and, I would say, “called” to that position.

In my life, too, I try to live by that model. I believe I am at my best when I am advising, facilitating, and writing. I am passionate about my faith. I want everything I do to advance God’s Kingdom. When I advise, my desire is to help people follow a calling that fits them, that draws on their greatest passions and talents. Helping people fulfil their visions gives me as much pleasure and joy as anything else in life.

Sometimes to be the best version of yourself you have to go through some trials and tribulations you do not want to experience—crucibles. Research done by Crucible Leadership has found that 49 percent of business leaders have had crucible experiences, events so painful that they have fundamentally changed their lives. I am certainly among that 49 percent. I have experienced much pain, and much self-reflection and soul-searching. The benefit of coming out on the other side of the failed takeover is that I now have a vision I am truly excited about, one that is truly my vision.

Where does vision come from? Is it internal or external? It would seem vision is often inspired by external events or comes from sources outside ourselves. Consider John Fairfax’s vision of the great newspaper he wanted to build one day. That vision was nurtured while working for a London newspaper and during the trials of working in newspapers in Leamington. His vision was cemented by the crucible of failure and then flourished under the promise of the young colony of New South Wales.

There was much external encouragement, such as that from John’s wife, Sarah. Yet that is not to say there was no internal component to John’s vision. Perhaps the greatest internal influence was his character, coupled with his aptitudes. John’s character made him want to build a newspaper that was fair, would fight for just causes, and help build a young colony. The facets of John’s character—fairness, justice, and compassion—were inextricably woven into his vision. Remember:

Vision occurs when deep-seated beliefs and character meet circumstances in an area in which the visionary has aptitude. This was certainly the case for John Fairfax in a way that was not true for me.

Reflection

  • Why is it important to follow your own vision, not someone else’s?
  • Why is an element of serving others, creating a life of significance, so critical to a successful vision?
  • Why is perseverance so critical to making a vision reality?

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