Companies, teams and communities do not blindly stumble into greatness. For remarkable goals to be achieved…for a tremendous success to be accomplished…for a community of people to rally and overcome tremendous odds—it always begins with vision!
Vision is the distance that exists between the reality of “what is” and the possibility of “what could be.”
Vision is not optional for the effective leader. To use a movie reference from Back to the Future, vision is the “flux capacitor” of leadership. It makes time travel possible for a group of people to suddenly see a preferable future.
Steven Covey has written, “All things are created twice.” First, there is the mental creation and, second, the physical creation. Vision pertains to this first creation. Your people have to see it, before they can be it. This is why for leaders, the ability to cast a compelling vision is a must if you are going to take your company, not-for-profit or team into the land of “what could be.”
In my leadership experience with three different organizations, I have learned the importance of vision and gained insights into how to help people to see a better tomorrow.
There are three simple tools that I always keep in my toolbox to move people from “what is” to “what could be.”
Storytelling is the single greatest visionary device any leader has in his or her toolbox. Stories, by their very nature, take the listener into the future. A well-told story will grab the attention of an audience.
• What stories from your organization are the prototypes for what you would like others to do?
• What stories from history, sports or art demonstrate the kind of greatness you’d like to see your team achieve?
Slogans can also be a great help in vision casting. A well-crafted slogan has the ability to encapsulate lots of stories. It is like storytelling on steroids. I remember the first time I heard the founder of Habitat for Humanity speak. He said, don’t you think everyone deserves a simple, decent place to live? You could see heads nodding all over the room and you could feel the agreement throughout the crowd. “Everyone deserves a simple, decent place to live” was a turn of a phrase that contained the stories of every Habitat volunteer who had swung a hammer in an effort to move the homeless into a home. With that simple slogan he was able to bring to mind as many stories as there were people in the room. A missional slogan can be used to motivate people to give, to serve and to sacrifice.
• Do you have a slogan that encapsulates your vision?
• What simple statement would connect your audience to your vision?
Statistics are also a great tool for leaders in communicating a new and better tomorrow. Many leaders stay away from the use of stats because sometimes numbers feel cold and sterile. But in every organization, there will be both right-brain and left-brain people. The right-brain people will be moved and motivated by your storytelling, but the left-brain folks will be convinced by statistics. You can use the statistics as a metric for where you ultimately want to be, and you can also use them to show progress toward a better coming day.
• What statistics can you use to support your vision?
• What numbers would be motivating to your team to push forward, despite the obstacles?
The story is told of three bricklayers working on the same job, each was asked the question, what are you doing? The first responded, I’m laying bricks. The second said, I’m putting up a wall. The third responded, I’m constructing a grand cathedral. All three were engaged in the same work, but only one had a vision for what he was doing. Your people need to know what they are doing is not just another brick in the wall.
The Bible reminds leaders, “Without a vision, the people perish.” Helen Keller has been famously quoted as saying, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but having no vision.”
I can think of something worse: a group of people who have sight, but their leader hasn’t been able to articulate a vision!