Between Vision and Reality
How many visionaries do you know working in North Africa? Chances are you know a lot!
Why? Because it takes a certain kind of person to come and work in this part of the world. Many of the people I work with have a vision. They know what they want to see accomplished. They arrive exuberant, idealistic, and full of energy. We need them, and we want them. If you are one of them, we are grateful!
Great dreams take time to accomplish, and often, have many forces working against their realization.
How many people do you know who are worn out, spent, or headed that way? Chances are you know too many.
There is often a disconnect between vision and reality. What happens in that space? Cross-cultural shock, disappointment, unmet expectations, setbacks, bureaucracy, as well as health and family issues, are just a few of the things that happen between vision and reality.
I’d like to share one thing that needs to happen to bridge this gap from a leadership perspective.
Leaders move people through change to a new reality. They have a vision for what an ideal future looks like. They must craft that vision, inspire that vision, and they must implement the steps needed to accomplish that vision. But between vision and a new reality is . . . people.
Too often, leaders envision their goal and, then, jump right to implementation, without investing enough time building ownership of the vision with their people. Leaders don’t create new realities by themselves. They need others. Too often, visionary leaders use the people around them as a resource to accomplish change. The problem is, people don’t want to be use. Rather, they want to matter, they want to be known, they want to make a difference.
There are three steps you can take to care for people in the steps between your vision and a new reality.
1. CREATE CLARITY: As a leader, you’ve got a vision and goals you’d like to accomplish. Before you start telling people what to do, they need to understand it. They need to hear in a clear, precise manner what it is they are headed for . . . and why.
NOT THIS: “Maybe we could do something together to keep us moving.” (not clear, too loose) Nor, “Hey, please book the conference center, and order lunch for 100 people” (clear, but it doesn’t explain the rationale -- it doesn’t care for the people who long to take part).
RATHER THIS: “I’ve been thinking about how it would propel our organization forward and get us all on the same page, if we could get one full day to hear Simon Simek and do a workshop with him. That could be a good connecting point for us as a group. Would you book the conference center and order lunch for 100 people?” (clear, precise goal, with a reason attached)
2. DIALOGUE: From Dia, Greek for between or through, and logos, from the root word for speak, word, or meaning. Dialogue is a flow of meaning between us. If you want people to really be on board with your vision, you need to include dialogue, not monologue. You need a two-way conversation, where both parties can be influenced and a joint meaning can be produced. To be influenced as a leader means you need to be receptive. This can be hard for many pioneering visionary leaders -- to be influenced by those they lead might mean letting go of something.
Being truly receptive to what your staff has to say builds “buy in.” It makes your team collective owners of the vision, goal, and direction, because they’ve had a hand in shaping it.
NOT THIS: “We’re going to do this, so get on board!” (communicates you are just using people to accomplish your goal) Nor, “I think this training would be great, don’t you?!” (doesn’t sound like you really care what they think -- you just want them to be excited)
RATHER THIS: “I’m excited about this idea, but I realize that I don’t have the whole picture. Would you tell me honestly what things come to mind when you hear this?” Then, by reflecting back (which takes a deep selfless listening - read about that here), show that you heard the heart of what they were wanting to communicate, and let what they say influence you.
3. INSPIRE: Not only do the people you lead want to help shape the direction, they want to be inspired by you. It’s part of what they expect from leaders. Some leaders inspire naturally; others find it quite difficult. Inspiration has two parts: being expressive and being positive. Being expressive is about opening your mouth, sharing the vision again, even though you think people have heard it before. Maybe sharing it a new way, with a metaphor or in a story, but sharing it again and again. Secondly, to inspire, you must be positive and encouraging about the vision. Sharing in a way that is full of hope, is positive, and warms people’s hearts to the future, inspires your people and helps them own the vision for themselves.
NOT THIS: “OK, we know we need to do this, and we all know why - so let’s get going.” (ugh!)
RATHER THIS: “I’ve been thinking again about why we’re doing this, and I realized that it’s going to be like getting a good rain after being in a desert. We’ve gotten dry and shriveled up -- started pulling back from one another. Doing this workshop is going to renew the way we care about one another at work, and I’m excited to see what else might bloom when we move forward with this.” (Yes! You’ve opened your mouth and shared in a way that is positive. This ignites people’s motivation and, when combined with the two previous steps, can help you build a truly powerful team ready to accomplish the mission by doing what it takes.)
You’ve got vision. Great! Make it reality, but make it reality by doing a good job with what’s between the vision and reality: people. Give them clarity, start an open-minded dialogue with them, and inspire them through encouraging expressions of the vision regularly.
The three main points in this article come from the book, “The Work of Leaders: How Vision, Alignment, and Execution Will Change the Way You Lead,” by Julie Straw and Barry Davis.