One of the most profound insights regarding the direction of an organization comes from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. When Alice asks the Cheshire Cat which path to take, he responds, “If you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t matter which path you take.”
Before we develop a plan for change, strategic leaders need to know where they are going. They must also be able to articulate that direction to others clearly. As strategic leaders, we have to point toward the destination.
“Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.” —Oprah, American executive
Crafting a Compelling Vision
Change expert, John Kotter, defines a vision as “a picture of the future with some implicit or explicit commentary on why people should strive to create that future.”
Here are the three functions of an effective and compelling vision:
• Clarifies the general direction for the change
• Motivates people to act, even if it’s painfully early
• Coordinates the actions of multiple people (your change team)
Clarifying the general direction is vital for a change effort because:
• People often disagree on the direction.
• People are usually confused about the proper direction.
• Clarity helps people make decisions.
• Once the vision is clear, one simple question can remove unnecessary work: “Is this aligned with our vision?”
The best leaders leverage their ability to paint the picture for what things will be like when the team gets through the inevitable tough seasons of change. They inspire and ultimately motivate purposeful action by:
• Acknowledging that there will be pain at first, but then painting a picture of the success that comes from short-term sacrifice
• Showing that the benefits and rewards on the other side of the pain far outweigh the current situation (which creates purpose among the team, ultimately moving them to act)
“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”
—Joel Barker, Future Edge
Build Momentum by Building Cross-Functional Teams
Coordinating cross-functional efforts of multiple people is critical, especially in your world. Here are a few key reasons why this is a vital function of an effective vision:
• Reduces conflict
• Lessens the need for endless meetings
• Allows for more autonomy and speed
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” —Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple
Craft Your Vision
A well-crafted destination postcard makes the direction clear, and it evokes emotions that inspire purposeful and meaningful action. You should be able to tell someone about your ideal destination during a 30-second elevator ride.
Challenge yourself to write in four sentences or fewer a description of where you are taking your team. It has to be clear to anyone; even someone who has no familiarity with your business.
Prove the Validity of Your Vision
Once you’ve crafted your vision, prove it’s valid, effective, and compelling by asking yourself the following questions or seek some perspective from a peer or mentor:
• Do you believe it is possible?
• Do you believe your employees can achieve it?
• Is it easy to understand?
Communicating Your Vision
One attribute all great leaders have connects with and inspires both hearts and minds of others.
Your message needs to become a part of you so that it doesn’t sound scripted, allowing you to speak with authority and passion on any occasion. If people see that you are passionate about what you are communicating and what you do, they will want to be a part of this endeavor and want to reflect your energy. Being excited and passionate about the company and the direction it is heading and then spreading this excitement to your associates are essential aspects of leadership at every level.
Sparking Your Change Movement
Once the vision is artfully crafted to pique energy and excitement then purposely communicated with heartfelt passion, great leaders focus on one special person to spark their movement:
Their first follower!
Once that first person raises their hand, steps forward, and lets you know they’re all in on your vision, welcome them to the movement with open arms.
Embrace them, recognize them, and show everyone that your change effort is already happening. Once you do that, these employees – your first followers – will attract other employees—this is how you will start a movement. As operational leaders, you must energize your employees to be excited by the possibilities of your change effort and vision.
“Movements don’t emerge because everyone suddenly decides to face the same direction at once or because of peer pressure on its own. But when the strong ties of friendship and the weak ties of peer pressure merge, they create incredible momentum.
That’s when widespread change can begin.”
—Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit