7 Elements of a Compelling Leadership Vision for Change

This post was recently published at Smartblog on Leadership:

Leading
change starts with a compelling leadership vision for change.
According to leadership expert John Kotter, a lack of leadership vision is one
of the most common reasons why transformational change efforts fail.

A leadership
vision isn’t just for large, CEO led, company-wide transformational changes.
Leaders at all levels need to inspire people to change in order to overcome
significant challenges and achieve important goals.

“Transformational”
is always relative and defined by those most impacted by the change. While an
office reconfiguration at a branch office may seem insignificant and trivial to
a CEO and his executive team, it’s probably considered transformational to the
employees that work in that office. It’s up to the branch office manager to
have a vision for that office reconfiguration, or the move is going to be met
with skepticism and resistance. The change is going to take longer than it
needs to, and may not even achieve the desired results.

Here are 7
important elements for any leadership vision for change:

1. It should be positive. A vision should focus more on how the
future will be better, and why. It should paint a picture of a better place to
be.

While many
would say a “burning platform” approach should be used to convince people to
change, I believe it’s a less effective because
it relies on fear in order to motivate. I’d much rather rely on positive psychology.

2. It should be inspirational. “We’re
all going to show up for work on time for the next 90 days”
isn’t really
going to inspire the troops to be all that they can be.
Decisions are emotional, not logical. People don’t make decisions by facts
– they are swayed by their emotions. They then use facts to justify their
emotional decision. A vision needs to appeal to the emotions of those involved
in order to be inspirational, then supported with logic.

3. It should be bold. What’s the most inspirational movie
that you’ve ever seen? In most cases, you’ll probably think of movies that
involved overcoming seemingly impossible odds. Don’t just say “We’re going to
make a 10%” improvement” – go for 50%, or 90%! The best visions are
BHAGs – big, hairy, audacious goals.

Is there risk
involved? A Chance you could fail? Sure, there always is with bold visions.
Here’s a good way to look at it: There are 32 NFL football teams. Each year, every one of those teams set a goal to
win the Super Bowl. Only one of them can
win – the others will all lose. However, that doesn’t mean a team should set a
vision for “making the playoffs and losing in the first round”.  If you don’t achieve it, you’ve most likely
made positive steps forward, learned a lot, and had a blast trying.

4. It should be inclusive. Involving other will not only create
ownership and buy-in for the vision, it will most likely result in a better
vision. There are a lot of ways to involve others in your vision. You can ask
people upfront for their input,
include them in the creation of the
vision
, or involve
them in the implementation planning.

5. It should be measurable and
attainable.
While a
great leadership vision may not always have a specific number attached it, it
should at least be directional enough so that people will know when you’ve
achieved it. Again, some may disagree, but I believe
a vision should have a destination.

6. It should connect to the greater
good.
“Increasing
revenue by 25%” may be important to the CEO and the Board, but it’s not going
to inspire too many employees or other stakeholders. Nowadays especially,
today’s employees want to feel like they are making a difference, and a
contribution to making the world a better place. They crave a sense of purpose – that’s what inspires us to
change and give it our all.

7. It needs to be communicated – often. Many leaders believe they have a
vision, but when employees are asked, they don’t have a clue what it might be.
Visions should not be well guarded secrets! Leaders need to get out and talk to
their employees about the vision. Communicating a vision is not an event – it’s
an ongoing process, where the vision is constantly and consistently
communicated until every single employee has internalized it.

Creating a
leadership vision for change isn’t easy – it’s hard work! But then again,
there’s a lot of hard work in creating a lousy vision too, so you might as well
do it in a way that inspires people to change and achieve extraordinary
results. After all, that’s what leadership is all about.