Guest post from Lee Hartley Carter:
Vision in leadership is essential. We all know it. And yet, while we often can answer the question generally with business plan answers, we can’t often paint a picture of what that vision looks like in practice. Often vision is couched in goals such as growing revenue 20% in 2020 or to be #1 in one’s category by 2025. While goals are undoubtedly important, that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I am talking about is a vision that is so crystal clear you can literally visualize it—and so can everyone else around you. That’s what vision is all about. It’s no coincidence that vision and visualize have the same linguistic origin—because that’s what vision is meant to do.
Creating a vision that aligns your team takes a lot of thought. It takes reflection. It takes getting specific. Because if you can't be specific, you can become scattered, your team won't know where you’re going, and you won't know success when you see it. Without specifics, you are likely to fail as a leader.
When I was just out of college, my friend Glenn and I were having drinks when he asked me my dream for the future. I mumbled through an answer along the lines of – a good job, married, kids, etc. You know the drill. No specifics. Vague and somewhat meaningless. He looked at me with a cocked eyebrow and took another gulp of his drink. Then he said to me, "Lee, that's not a dream. A dream is specific. A dream is visual. When I say what's your dream, I want you to be able to paint a picture of exactly what it is that you want." I sighed, looked down at my drink and thought, “Man, that is scary. What if I’m specific and then I don't pull it off? What if I say this out loud and sound like an idiot?” I rolled my eyes and tried to change the subject.
Glenn put down his drink and looked me square in the eye and said, "Let me tell you about my dream. 15 years from now I will be on a boat fishing with my friends, pulling up to my dock, listening to Bob Seger. The wind will be in my hair. I will have caught three big fish. And my wife and daughter will be standing on the dock waiting for me. It will be an epic Saturday. And I will know, just know, that I made it." He said this with full confidence, and no sense of irony. Guess who now has a boat he pulls to the slip, listening to Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights”? Glenn does.
I have thought of that evening so many times over the years, and it guides me when I am teaching clients how to create compelling visions. Your vision should be so clear that it reads just like that. You should be able to feel it when you talk about it. Everyone on your team should be able to visualize achieving the vision. And, maybe, just maybe, it should have its own soundtrack!
Creating a visual vision has three key benefits:
A visual vision will help you to prioritize. You only have so much time in a day or mental energy and only so many resources. If you aren't crystal clear on what you are trying to accomplish, you will waste time on activities that aren’t moving you forward. You can ask yourself, is this choice moving me closer to my vision? If not, it might be counter-productive.
2: Getting Others on Board
The second benefit of having a visual vision is it motivates other people to help make it happen.
From time to time we all face burnout, discouragement, and frustration. Your vision will give you at least 5 WHYs that will keep you going when things go wrong.
We all know vision is essential to leadership. But it’s not just having a vision that’s enough. You need to be so specific that you have an exact picture of what that vision looks like. And once you’ve created that vision you need to share it and repeat. Repeat. Repeat. So much so that everyone on your team sees exactly what you see.
Lee Hartley Carter is the author of Persuasion: Convincing Others When Facts Don’t Seem to Matter, and president of maslansky + partners, a language strategy firm based on the single idea that "It's not what you say, it's what they hear,” the author of the new book, Persuasion, a sought-after public speaker and a frequent contributor on Fox News. With 20+ years of experience in marketing and strategic communications, Carter manages a diverse range of language strategy work for Fortune 100 and 500 companies, trade associations, and nonprofits in the United States and globally, helping them to better tell their stories.