“Casting a vision” is made much of in strategic planning circles, by everyone from Jack Welch to Jim Collins (check out this classic article), but it’s nothing new to followers of Jesus. He was a master visioneer who spent most of his words painting a compelling picture of what he called “The Kingdom of God.” Most leaders of his day, secular and religious alike, led through authoritarian power or fear. Not Jesus—he drew his followers into a vision so irresistible that they turned their lives upside-down to pursue it.
As Christians, we are driven by this ultimate vision—of a world where relationships are redeemed and all things are made right. If our organizations are Christ-centered, then any vision we articulate should draw us into this greater vision, the story of God’s redemption that has implications for both the distant future and for today (described beautifully in NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope).
As a leader, you should have a personal vision, but that’s not enough. If you want to lead your organization or team through positive change, you need a shared vision. Peter Senge has said:
“A shared vision is not an idea… It may be inspired by an idea, but once it goes further—if it is compelling enough to acquire the support of more than one person—then it is no longer an abstraction. It is palpable. People begin to see it as if it exists. Few, if any, forces in human affairs are as powerful as shared vision.”
A good shared vision does a couple of things:
- It simplifies thousands of smaller decisions for months and years to come. If you effectively point your organization in the right direction, you will save yourself an incredible amount of micromanaging because the vision will become the “thumb test” for decisions at every level of your organization.
- It gives people the courage to move in the right direction even when the initial steps are painful.
How to develop a vision
A vision is more than a marketing tagline. Your full vision statement will probably end up being a few paragraphs long, to describe the various aspects of the future you envision.
As an individual leader, you can choose to propose a “seed idea” for the vision, or even create a complete first draft that reflects your own passion and extends the mission of your organization. I personally prefer to convene a large group of stakeholders and craft a draft statement socially, particularly if you’ve done a good job building a sense of urgency. I’ve seen this happen many times, and am always surprised by the richness and multi-faceted nature of a vision developed in such a way, and the excitement that it stirs up across the whole organization. An Appreciative Inquiry workshop can work very well for this.
Regardless of how you develop a vision, you’re going to need to depend on your team of change leaders. This “guiding coalition” will enrich your perspective as you steward the vision, and will become champions as you build a culture of positive change.
Check your work
As you solidify your vision statement, take the step back and give it a hard look. Kotter suggests (Leading Change, p. 74) that an effective vision is always:
- Imaginable. Does your vision convey a picture of what the future will look like?
- Desirable. Does it appeal to the long-term interests of employees, donors, and others who have a stake in it?
- Feasible. Is it comprised of realistic, attainable elements?
- Focused. Is it clear enough to provide guidance in decision making?
- Flexible. Is it general enough to allow individual initiative and alternative responses in light of changing conditions?
- Communicable. Is it easy to communicate? Can it be successfully explained within five minutes?
Things to remember
It’s not just a mental exercise—there’s a role for head and heart. You’ll need both analytical thinking and a lot of dreaming throughout the process.
It’s going to be messy. Developing vision is often a process of two steps forward and one back, movement to the left and then to the right.
It’s a collective act. By its very nature, shared vision can’t be developed solo. Depend on the rest of your organization—particularly your team of change leaders.
It takes time. Vision doesn’t emerge fully-formed in a single meeting. It usually takes weeks or months. Be patient.
Have you developed a vision statement for your team or organization? What guidance would you add?