How Vision Works (and sticks)

We’ve all heard visions that just. didn’t. stick. On the receiving end of an unsticky vision it may feel sort of sleepy, un-inspiring, complicated, or tone deaf. We walk away either distracted, forgetful, or disappointed.

If you’ve ever given an un-inspiring vision, it’s far worse. 

I used to believe that the secret to inspiring vision was to be… inspiring. That is, to infuse my communication with energy, clever language, stories. The trouble is, when you leave the room your energy about your idea goes with it. Perhaps you’ve been tempted to make your vision accurate. Accurate…well… it just isn’t that inspiring either. Neither is trying to answer all the questions before they come.

Vision is as important as it is difficult.

Here is the recipe for sticky vision

Sticky Vision = (the leader’s belief) x (the appeal of those beliefs).

First, a word about each factor in this equation:

Sticky Vision: That which has staying power, focuses attention, and motivates people in a particular direction.

Leader’s Belief: The authentic dedication of a leader to a vision they have crystalized.

Appeal of Those Beliefs: The resonance of those beliefs with followers. 

“Consider any great organization – one that has lasted over the years – and I think you will find that it owes its resiliency to the power of what we call beliefs, and the appeal those beliefs have for its people.”

Thomas Watson, Jr (Former CEO of IBM), as quoted in Be 2.0 by Jim Collins

Both the leader’s belief and the follower’s appeal are multipliers, not adders. No matter the strength of one side of the equation, it’s easily sabotaged by a lack of fortitude on the other.

Your vision must be appealing to your audience.

Imagine a church congregation of young parents and working professionals, who trying to do their best are also teetering on the edge of exhaustion isolation and confusion. After long months in their “study”, the pastor casts a vision for their church of biblical literacy. The pastor believes it and really likes it. A year later, they are confused and concerned why the vision doesn’t seem to have left the pulpit.

How to make vision appealing:

  • When you talk, we feel heard.
  • You’ve made it easy to follow.
  • The vision is for others.

Your behavior has to make your vision believable.

Imagine after a series of focus groups, a CEO understands the importance of personal and environmental sustainability for their employees (in particular, in the ever-present war for talent). They notice the attentiveness of staff at all levels during their annual presentation as they talk about a workplace committed to what is best for people and the planet. However, morale dips and cynicism creeps in as the CEO continues flying in a private jet, expecting answers at all hours of the weekend, and promoting self-ambitious work-a-holics. 

How to make vision believable:

  • Consistency in communication
  • Clarity in how you talk about it (you understand the problem better than anybody)
  • You model it in daily behavior

Energy isn’t enough. Accuracy isn’t enough. Help your vision stick by speaking their language and backing it up with your behavior.

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