More often than not, a vision sits on a beautifully designed poster and not in the hearts and minds of the people either employed or engaged to make it a reality. Over time, the poster collects dust, and the phrase becomes simple rhetoric that fails to shift any feeling or behaviour to those hearing it.
What a tragedy. A great vision goes to waste because, as Andy Stanley is quoted as saying, “On the wall and not in the hall.” Vision is as good as the action it inspires. Vision is as good as the thinking it invites. Vision is as good as the legacy it leaves.
And none of that is worth anything if visions aren’t translated.
Translation helps you make sense of what is being said, requested or invited. Translation makes the conceptual concrete, complex more simple and the invisible visible. When it’s just rhetoric, it’s nice to hear; when it’s real vision, it’s better to DO.
Leaders solve the translation paradox. Leaders take responsibility for the clarity of the vision AND the availability of the vision. They do this by asking one question over and over and over again. It’s called the vision translation question.
When it comes to our shared vision, what do you DO every day to move that forward? Remember, translation needs to produce action, not just understanding.
Take Responsibility for Clarity.
Leaders take responsibility for a clear and compelling vision. There can be no effective translation if there is no clear vision. Fred Smith said it best when he noted that an agreement isn’t the goal of vision; acceptance is.
Clarity is the responsibility of the leader. Period. The clearer you can be the better you can identify what evidence (see point three) there needs to be to know the vision is becoming a reality. The next best question to ask yourself after vision clarity is “Now what?”
Ancient writers told us to “write the vision down and make it plain.” Why? “So the person who reads it may run.” The clearer the vision, the more potential there is for a clean and crisp translation into culture, behaviour and organisational priorities.
Have Vision Orientated Conversations.
Our words reveal what matters most to us. What we speak demonstrates our values, our priorities and our emotions. Leaders translate vision by observing, asking, coaching, mentoring and directing (when needed).
Leaders ask vision orientated questions. Leaders listen to the vision orientated people. Leaders look for team members who embrace and embody the vision in day-to-day and week-to-week activities.
When you are with other leaders, team members, volunteers, clients, attendees, or anyone within reaching distance of the vision, just ask the simple yet important questions around vision. Be curious not critical.
Some vision questions include:
- I’m curious to know how you understand our vision?
- In what way does our vision resonate with you?
- When you hear our vision what do you think about first?
- What do you think we should start/stop/continue to move our vision forward?
- How do you know if you/others have fully understood our vision?
- Can you see any sticking points or blind spots in our vision?
Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list. Perhaps, take some time to create your vision questions, ones that work for you, your team and your context.
Know What You’re Looking for in Behaviour.
Vision must lead to action. Vision needs to be able to influence and shape the behaviour of individuals and teams. As a leader, it’s essential to help identify what you and your team agree are specific things that you are aiming for, so you know that the visions are translating.
The critical piece is knowing what you’re looking for. A number of years ago I was re-engineering a team that had a bad reputation and an unhealthy track record. We worked hard on phrases that would shape who we were and what we did. Instead of just signing off on “Excellence” as a value, we decided to say, “We leave things better than how we find them.” We worked hard on this for two years, and I remember at the end of an event, the team leader in charge of pack down, motivated their people by telling them we “leave things better than how we find them.” At that moment, I knew we had identified language and value in a way we could see it.
When you’re clear on what you’re looking for, you help others move towards it with great courage and confidence. When you all know what you’re looking for, you move towards it as a team. This kind of leadership helps people go further, faster.
Utilise Obstacles and Opposition.
Vision doesn’t always make friends. And enemies aren’t necessarily the opposite experience. Usually, it’s indifference. Obstacles and opposition are not the enemies of vision. They can be a true friend. This can be one of the more challenging responsibilities of leadership, and important. Make friends with the pushback, it helps deepen relationships, and create resolve and even improve what you are doing.
Take the time to listen to the sticking point. Be clear on specifically what the issue is. Find out why this is a sticking point. People see the world as they are, not as it is. Words have meanings for people who are not right or wrong, just different. Find those distinctions; those nuances.
Invite the person to describe to you what the vision looks like when this is no longer an issue. Work hard to be clear on this point. This matters because you want to make it clear, the difference between a principle or a preference. If the vision divide is purely based on preference and “I don’t like it,” then the likelihood of an outcome that satisfies both parties is rare. If the matter is more related to principles, perspectives or understanding, then the right kind of conversation can help everyone win. That needs to be the reason for obstacles and opposition; helping everyone win.
Notice the What and Share the Why.
John Maxwell taught me to, “Catch someone doing something right”. Just recently one of my team mentioned they had a new volunteer join their area. They gave me enough detail so that when I saw that volunteer, I was able to be specific in my encouragement to him for his contribution.
Teach your team to notice the behaviours and actions that demonstrate people are living the vision. Point it out and celebrate it. Public contributions and private ones. Our team stops weekly to celebrate the people and the actions that move our vision down the field. We name and celebrate people who make significant contributions even if no one sees them.
I write handwritten thank you notes. I aim for one a day. In the notes, I try to be specific about what I have seen or been told that they do or are doing. You need to find ways to quickly and authentically acknowledge them.
Then the role of the leader begins. The leader takes that contribution, the behaviour and links it to the vision you share. Generally you need to chunk up and fit it into a core value of the organisation or into the vision as a whole. Make this your top priority as a leader. Keep seeing WHAT is happening, point out WHY this matters, and WHY it’s important. People love being recognised for worthwhile contributions, and teams love seeing the progress. It has such power in it, and you’ll notice incredible value being communicated about vision.
It’s easy for vision to be misunderstood. That’s precisely why leaders translate it, so we can see it, say it and do it.
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