The Organizer #19 | Leadership

How do I share my vision so others can see it, too? Communicating a vision is an important part of leadership. To motivate and focus your team, be specific, tell a story, and keep at it.

Share your vision as a leader

A leader’s job is to communicate a vision. Maybe for a movement, maybe for an organization, maybe just for a meeting or a moment. Why are we here? What comes next? A leader holds those answers, or knows where to find them.

Leadership is the ability to mobilize and harness the efforts of a group of people. Can this group of humans come together to accomplish something? Can we do it despite our fears and flaws and limited resources? Will our accomplishments mirror our goals and our values? The answers to those questions depend on how leaders lead.

A big part of leading is communicating a vision. Leaders need to translate what’s in their mind and heart into information that can be absorbed by others and transformed into action.

How to communicate a vision when the words don’t come easy

There are as many ways to share a vision as there are leaders. There are also patterns and behaviours that can be learned and are important components of every effective vision. If you find yourself struggling to communicate what you see and feel, try these five things:

1. Be specific about your vision

A vision of the future is, by definition, theoretical. It doesn’t exist. That’s why it’s a vision. But if you’ve been on the receiving end of an abstract vision, you know how frustrating and impossible it is to execute an abstraction or (worse) a secret.

Command people to “Succeed!” and they won’t have a clue what you mean. Or they’ll insert their own definition. If you want every politician on the hill to care about your issue, say that. If you need to raise a certain amount of money for your next legal challenge, say that.

Yes, you expose yourself. If the vision you share is ridiculously grand (“World peace by Tuesday!”) then your team will see right through you. But if you provide clarity and eliminate ambiguity, you create a sense of focus and confidence that groups crave.

2. Invoke the senses

To truly paint a picture of the future, you should be able to describe your vision using more than just statistics. Tell people what you see happening, what you are hearing, and what it feels like. People retain information better when it is attached to a sensation or emotion, so think about ways to help people understand the goal intuitively.

You will get weird stares if you walk into today’s staff meeting and declare “Help our clients so the future smells like lilacs”. But you should be able to communicate that ending pollution means cold, clean water on your skin in the summer time and fresh air rushing into your lungs while you play soccer with your friends. Safe neighbourhoods means the sound of kids laughing in the streets in the evening. A living wage means feeling fully rested, awake, and relaxed.

If we’re going to live in the world that you create, what will it feel like?

3. Paint a picture many times, many ways

Communicating your vision once is not enough. Many of us are guilty of saying “This is what we are doing” once and expecting everyone (including ourselves) to remember it forever. Or laying out a vision in a way that works for us without taking time to see if it worked for others.

If you presented a vision in a meeting verbally, anyone who relies on print, graphics, or private reflection to internalize information is going to be left behind. The bigger the team, the more ways you need to communicate.

Don’t assume that there is one right way to communicate and expect everyone to conform. Don’t assume the way that works best for you works for everyone else.

And never, ever skip the part where team members have a chance to reflect the vision back. We learn by doing, not by hearing.

4. Be consistent with the vision you share

A vision should evolve as the world changes or new information arises, but adjustments should deliberate and transparent. A vision that looks like a whim has no power.

If you share a new vision every week, people will tune out. You’ll send a signal that the vision isn’t important if you don’t talk about it again. If you don’t take time to connect events back to the vision over and over again, the picture you so carefully painted will fade away. Take time often to repeat your vision and connect the dots for your team.

5. Persist. Never stop communicating.

A vision takes time. It takes time to craft, time to communicate, time to reiterate, and time to emerge. Don’t give up.

One of the most challenging phases is in the beginning, when everything is in your head. People understand what we see. As you model the vision, as the group begins to have accomplishments, as the work becomes real, people start to see with their own eyes what is being built.

In time the vision becomes real for others. When it becomes real to them, belief kicks in. This is when people see their own role in the story, and the vision really comes to life.

How to help a leader

Leadership can be lonely. A leader tries to find words to explain something that that wasn’t born from words, so they stumble. They try to describe an image that lives behind their eyes, and so they ramble. It’s hard to know what’s working and what’s not.

If you aren’t the leader, you can help one share their vision better.

1. Ask for detail

If you aren’t clear on the vision, ask for details and specifics. Try asking for numbers and timeframes, or what the goal will feel like when it’s reached. Ask for a description of what will be different when a vision is realized.

2. Reflect back what you’ve heard

Put the vision into your own words and reflect it back. Say it in your own words, draw it, tell a story about it, or write it out. Show the leader how you understand the vision, highlight any gaps you want filled, and show them how the vision comes to life through someone else’s voice.

We share visions to inspire action

A vision only needs to be good enough to prompt action, and that’s all. Too much talking and too much analyzing means too little action. The best way to truly understand something is to live it, to experience it.

Sometimes the best way to test the water is to throw away the thermometer and dive in.

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