Integrating Your Team Into Your Vision
Harnessing team synergy around big vision.
It’s lonely being a visionary. You’re the only one who sees what you see. But can your leadership team, professional peers, or colleagues in the C-suite share the burden with you?
Yes and no. Vision tends to be a one-person gig, if only because the words, events, and interconnections that spark wild intuitive leaps are meaningful only for the person who experiences them. The articles, products, memories, and relationships that might get you dreaming about exponential growth curves or strategic acquisitions will have a completely different effect on someone else—or no effect at all.
That’s not only lonely and frustrating but can be bad for business. The best, most valuable brands are built on the leader’s sparkling clear, emotionally resonant vision. Still, if you can’t communicate that vision to anyone else, it will be challenging to get traction in making the changes you need to get you to that place you can see on the horizon. The bolder your vision, the more difficult it can be to bring colleagues and subordinates to connect with and comprehend it. That makes it nearly impossible for them to ideate or take the initiative because they can’t grasp what you’re after.
“The best, most valuable brands are built on the leader’s sparkling clear, emotionally resonant vision.”
Yes, you can take steps to make your vision more straightforward. You can lay out your long-term ideas for the company in every meeting and every one-on-one with your leadership team. You’ll be able to create context by discussing what your vision means. You can set down the step-by-step of how your vision might come into being—timelines, action items, alliances, etc.
Maybe most importantly, you can let the people in your organization know that it’s okay if they don’t fully grasp your vision. The trouble with being at the top of the organizational chart is that when you speak, everyone nods in agreement, even if they have no idea what you’re talking about. Everyone wants to seem “in the know,” and nobody wants to look like they don’t get what the big boss is laying down. The blind consensus from yes nods don’t lead to critical thinking or challenging of ideas that should be challenged. Create a safe space for everyone to admit when they’re unclear and to ask “dumb” questions.
Nothing against worker bees—every hive needs them—but you also need co-conspirators who can bring abundant energy to your vision and propose new dimensions because they understand your idea at an instinctive gut level.
Given that, can you mind-meld with your key allies and get them closer to perceiving something inherently personal? To a degree, yes. Even if you can’t communicate the essence of a vision uniquely yours, you can engage top people in ways that will help them contribute to your picture of the future.
Write the story of what the future looks like.
Part of what makes a vision so elusive for people who didn’t experience it firsthand is that the experience and emotion are ineffable beyond description. One workaround could be to try writing the story of your vision as a narrative—what the organization might look like in 5 years following your plan, what it might be like to work there, and so on. Be expressive and expansive (you’re trying to sell this, after all), and don’t be shy about flourishes of language. Write about how you imagine daily life will be for employees, your team’s impact on the world, or what your vision represents for people regarding wealth and freedom. Write it like fiction, like a soaring speech…whatever you need to do to convey the depth of your mind. Ensure every one of importance reads it, and make time for discussion and questions.
Guide people through the process that led you to your vision.
How did you develop your idea for how your organization should evolve or where it should be in 3 years? Did you attend a conference? Listen to a speech by a mentor. Read a book? Go on a vision quest? If you want your leadership team to understand where you’re coming from, take them there. In formal meetings or casual conversations, walk them through the analytical, psychological, and emotional process that led you to your plan, big idea, and epiphany. They don’t have to engage in the same actions you did literally, but they should be able to follow how your thinking and long-term view have evolved. For one thing, it will make your vision appear more logical and supported by facts.
Invite them to share their vision for the company, even if it’s radically different from yours.
Open-eyed conversations between peers rarely end without something valuable being said. So set your vision to the side and ask each leadership team member, “What’s your vision for this company?” Not everybody will have one in their back pocket, so you might not want to spring it on. Instead, give them a two-week window and clear instructions: “Develop your vision of where you see us in X years, and give no consideration to my vision or what you think I want to hear.” Then decide if you’ll listen to each person’s vision privately or in a group get-together. The payoff comes when you and the other members of your team see where your visions share common ground. That’s when you will start to understand one another.
Conduct a “start from the end” visioning exercise.
Have each leader imagine what the organization is like a set number of years from today—what business you’re in, what the culture looks like, who your customers are, what life is like day-to-day, what the organization stands for, etc. Then work backward from there. What changes have to occur for that end goal to be realized? How do you and your people have to change, professionally and personally? What sacred cows do you have to slaughter? What heresies and “We can’t do it that way” do you have to embrace? Confronting the reality that change means sacrifice and discomfort will trigger psychological adaptation in your people and make it easier for them to accept or even adopt your vision.
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