John C. Maxwell: Looking Upward

UPDATED: August 27, 2013
PUBLISHED: August 27, 2013

Great leaders understand the value and power of their words. They know that crafting and sharing a well-developed vision can change a person, a team, and ultimately, a company. When a leader defines the vision and communicates it effectively, others not only see the big picture, but also see how they can contribute to the organization’s mission.

People want to work for more than a paycheck. Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, once said, “People want to be part of something larger than themselves. They want to be part of something that they’re really proud of, that they’ll fight for, sacrifice for, that they trust.” A powerful and compelling vision makes this possible. It allows you to bridge the gap between your current reality and the way things could or should be in the future.

Good leaders are driven by their vision, and naturally dissatisfied with the status quo. Even when they reach the summit of one mountain, they start looking for the next peak to climb.

Great leaders always keep in mind that they must share their vision and get their team to join them for the climb.

10 Tips for Conveying Your Vision

1. Own it. Winston Churchill said, “Before you can inspire with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself. Before you can move their tears, your own must flow. To convince them, you must yourself believe.” Your passion and conviction will be more compelling than your words. The first person who should be excited about your vision is you.

2. Appeal to people’s hearts. The ancient Chinese said human “will” is like a cart being pulled by two horses: the “mind” and the “emotions.” In order to pull the cart forward, both horses have to be pulling the cart in the same direction. Engage people’s hearts by giving them a reason to care about your  vision.

3. Speak to their goals. Many leaders attempt to share their vision and connect it to their team’s motivations as an afterthought. Instead, spend time learning about the goals of your people and connect the vision of the organization to their goals.

4. Keep it simple. People are not motivated by complicated theories and abstract ideas. The best communicators take the complex and make it simple. Great leaders use terms and explanations that are easy to understand so everyone can catch their vision.

5. Paint a clear picture with your words. Recently, I heard Atlanta pastor Andy Stanley say that if your vision is unclear, “the mist in your mind will eventually become a fog in your organization.” People think and remember in pictures. To drive your vision home, give people an idea for the mind and a picture for the heart—tell them about your customers and clients, like the senior citizen whose day will be made if she’s shown that little extra bit of service.

6. Eyes on the prize. What do you hope to accomplish? What are your expectations of the team? Decide which beliefs, actions and behaviors will be necessary for your group to create the results you want, then communicate this to your team.

7. Explain the benefits of buying in. People rarely do anything until they see the personal, measurable benefits of taking action.

8. Include clear action steps. Although thoughts and ideas are important, you must give people something to do if they are going to take ownership of the vision. What is one thing your team can do now in order to move the organization toward your goals, and how can you clear a path for them to get started?

9. Model personal commitment. Your teammates are watching you. They want to see just how committed you are to this big idea. Never forget that they will see inconsistencies in your language and behavior if you aren’t fully dedicated. Be vigilant and hold yourself to a high  standard.

10. Create a community. Good leaders and visionaries create a sense of family and a sense of destiny. People love to feel committed to a shared goal. They want to know that their contributions are valued and important. Look for ways to encourage a spirit of family and continually reinforce the goals and future of the organization.

Vision communication is like oxygen in a healthy organization. If you don’t have a clear picture of where you want to go, you may find your team suffocating from a lack of purpose and direction. One defining characteristic of leaders is that they know where they are going and have a plan to get themselves and their teams there.

No matter how persuasive you are, be prepared to encounter resistance. Change is uncomfortable. It often makes people feel anxious and insecure. Once you’ve cast a vision, allow people time to accept it. The only way to get past the fear is to develop a vision more compelling than the fear. Look for ways to focus on the passion behind the vision, and people’s fears will take a backseat to their excitement.

Strong leaders unite their people behind a common goal. If you clearly, consistently and constantly share your vision, it will spread to those around you. Andrew Carnegie said, “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” Dare to envision a future that causes you and your team to wake up every day fueled by passion and inspired by a meaningful mission.

Instead of scaling the mountain alone, you will climb it together.