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On Leading Well, Part 2: Clear Vision

September 6, 2018

If you joined us for part one of this series, you’ll recall that we are considering a few key characteristics of great leaders, those being growing and learning, clear vision, and caring about people. This week let’s look at the why, what, and how of creating and communicating a clear vision.

The Why of Vision

Most of you are familiar with the critical nature of having a clearly defined ‘why.’ As leaders and founders, many of you were charged with shaping and capturing the reason for your organization’s existence in its charter application to the state. As decades of literature tells us, having a clearly defined purpose and vision for the future will make or break an organization.

Captured well, the vision will transcend the day-to-day wins and losses and help carry a team through the battlefields of disappointment to victory. The ‘Why’ of vision is what compels teams into action. It brings unity and clarity and inspires beyond the moment, as strategies are refined and action plans optimized. Though the ‘Why’ of vision is critical for inspiring action toward the horizon, there are key aspects of vision that must be clarified in order to make that vision a reality.

The What of Vision

It is the ‘What’ of Vision that provides enough substance and direction to facilitate action. Lencioni suggests that having answers to these six questions is critical:

· Why do you exist?

· How do we behave?

· What do we do?


· How will we succeed?

· What is most important right now?

· Who must do what?


The Why is undergirded, and can be accomplished, by teams having enough meaningful clarity to move forward. If we look at each one of these, there is information that should be defined together and known throughout the organization.

Why do you exist?

  • Are the mission and vision known, lived, felt?

How do we behave?

  • What are the articulated and shared values that uphold the organization? Those that shape decisions in situations lacking clarity. Is it expected and known that staff members operate as a team, laboring together toward the good of the organization versus being driven by self-interest?

What do we do? How will we succeed? What is most important right now?

  • Has the path forward been clearly defined? The logic models created? Have the specific outputs and outcomes been defined? Does the plan note timing and priority of action?

Who must do what?

  • Does your team know who owns what outcomes or who has responsibility for certain tasks? Do they know their buckets of work well enough to establish systems and develop personal mastery? Or, is their energy being squandered by redundancy of effort due to lack of clarity regarding roles and responsibilities?

Finally, let’s look at the ‘How’ of Vision and the steps to support the internalization of the message and the sustainability of the work.

The How of Vision

A colleague of mine notes that when promoting our schools, we should be marketing ‘always and in all ways.’ The same holds true for communicating vision. Communication is key. Three words come to mind related to how to share vision effectively – simply, continuously, and systematically.

  • Simply - For the larger vision to take hold, it must be known and internalized. Clear, digestible language facilitates absorption.
  • Continuously – We have all experienced the evaporative nature of messaging. What is claimed as critical from higher in the organization may be missed during delivery or only truly heard by a portion of the team. Repetition over time conveys the organization’s unwavering commitment and assures the staff that the vision is not a passing fad. Kotter notes that the average employee intakes approximately 2,300,000 words or numbers from the organization over a three month period of time. Overrun by details of the day to day, a new vision may be hard to absorb. Here, as always, the ancient Latin notion that repetition is the mother of all learning holds true. When we hear something said and see it lived out, in the words and actions of the leader, then we take it in as a truth to be trusted.
  • Systematically – Finally, let’s discuss what holds it all together. Systems. Regardless of what you are trying to convey or prioritize as meaningful, if there is not a system in place to message, train toward and measure that stated priority, then it will fall uselessly to the wayside overtime. As you reflect on your stated vison, consider if it is reiterated and supported systematically throughout the organization. Do job descriptions and postings reflect where the organization is heading? Does the onboarding process include a clear vision and the role of that employee in making that vision a reality? Is the team systematically reviewing and discussing progress toward that vision? The established systems of sharing the vision and the expected and current progress toward that vision is what will ultimately drive change. The system that support the vision provide the rails of consistency upon which excellence and sustainability are built.

As you reflect on how to lead your team well, like other great leaders before you, may you lead with a clear and consistent vision that is known, lived and deemed important enough to measure.

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