Overcoming Obstacles With Vision

Leaders must overcome obstacles almost daily to advance their respective missions. So how does that happen? Well, I thought a quick look at how a few survivors have done it might be helpful.

Frankl’s Perspective

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl provided a vivid look at his struggle for survival in Nazi prison camps. He noted first that it was important for him to have a strong sense of purpose that could transcend his circumstances.

Lessons From A Survivor

Frankl’s insights reminded me of my father-in-law.  In 1941 George Rogers’ recruiting officer, convinced him that the Philippines was a poor man’s paradise.  George enlisted and soon boarded a ship. He arrived in “paradise” with six other men from the 4th Chemical Company.  As it turned out, George was the only survivor.

Two months later Pearl Harbor was attacked and then the Philippines.  The troops went first to Manila and then to Bataan, where they fought for five months. Finally, in April General Edward P. King surrendered.

Surviving in Harsh Conditions

Some 76,000 Americans and Filipinos marched over 100 kilometers in scorching heat and no food or water. The troops had rationed food so they were weak and suffering from sickness.  Men carried sick friends but as they fell, they would be shot, stabbed or run over by tanks.  On the march alone, 10,000 men died.  Then George and others were loaded into steel boxcars and shipped to Camp O’Donnell in temperatures reaching 120 degrees. By July, 1500 additional Americans and 25,000 Filipinos died.

George was shipped to Japan and forced into hard labor at a steel mill.  For over three years, he had a starvation diet that left his 6’3″ frame weighing only 85 pounds.  He endured beatings, humiliation, Malaria, dry Beriberi, amoebic dysentery, helping bury 1,600 Americans, and much more at the hands of his captors.

Keeping the Vision Alive

Yet, he was neither defeated nor lost hope. When I asked what sustained him, he described two things.  First, George believed in God.  That faith bolstered him with an optimistic understanding that despite his circumstances, God still had a purpose for George. Evidently, prisoners who lacked a transcending purpose were quickly overwhelmed and died.

Vision that Transcends Circumstances

Second, George developed a vision for the future that transcended his present circumstances.  After the war, he would go back to St. Louis, marry Barbara Randall, graduate from St. Louis University, secure a good paying job and raise a large family.  George also discussed this vision with a friend from St. Louis.  He kept it alive and the meaning it provided helped sustain him:

“You need something to look forward to,” said George.  “Our news was old. We didn’t get correspondence, so having something to look forward to was helpful.  And having someone who also knew the Randall family helped too. We talked about the beautiful Randall girls, and I was going to marry Barbara and eventually I did that. I also graduated from college, have 5 wonderful kids and to this day I still have my hair and teeth.”

George’s experience offers would be leaders a powerful illustration of how a strong sense of purpose and a clear vision can sustain a person or an organization in the midst of hardship.  George’s vision and philosophy have not only helped him survive, they have also prospered him with faith, family and prosperity that he still enjoys at 97.

How Vision Affects Fundraising

When we counsel clients on strategic planning, part of the stakeholder retreat includes the creation of a vision statement.  This statement answers who the organization wants to be or become and by when? A well-defined vision plays an important role in increasing fundraising effectiveness and capital campaign success.