How To Inspire a Vision with Skill



“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” — Jonathan Swift

Vision is one of the most powerful ways we can breathe life into any effort.

When people can see it in their mind’s eye –and hold a vision before them of what’s possible for the future — it mobilizes them to action.

It gives them something to work towards. It gives meaning to their daily actions.

It helps them stay the course, especially when they need it most.

As a Program Manager, one of the most important things I do at the start of any project, is inspire a shared vision.   (Aside – a Program Manager is effectively like a corporate entrepreneur that ships ideas and makes things happen)  To launch a significant program of change or project, I have to inspire people and paint a picture of how the world will be different …How is this next project going to change THE world or OUR world in any significant way?

It has to be simple, sticky, and build buzz.

Buzz builds momentum and mindshare.

Vision is the ultimate end-in-mind.  As Covey taught us, it’s a great place to start.

Vision is also a great way to turn dreams into action and clarify the impact that you want to make. Vision is also a great way to co-create the future to get buy-in from those involved in creating the change.

As you can imagine, stories help here.

The trick is to tell a simple story about the current state, the desired future state, and reveal meaningful opportunities in a way that stakeholders can relate to.   If you can do this, then you can quickly build momentum for the project, even when there are big challenges for the road ahead.

You need to sell the vision before people buy into the execution.  Too many people put the cart before the horse.

The secret here is, if you win the heart, the mind follows, and stories of great impact are the key to winning the heart.

Vision Cuts Through the Fog

In one of my leadership trainings, the instructor gave us a great way to think about vision.  He told us to imagine driving down the coast of highway 1, where the sun is shining, the music is blaring, and we can see the road ahead.

Life is good, when you can see where you’re going.

But along the way, we round a corner and we hit a dense patch of fog.  We slow down.  We turn the music down.  We get white knuckles wondering whether we can even stay on the road.

And, then we round another corner, and the sun is shining, the clouds have parted, and we can see the road before us again.

Vision is like that. It cuts through clouds and creates clarity.

After all, how can you expect folks to race toward the goal if they can’t even see it?

5 Ways to Inspire a Vision with Skill

When you’re inspiring a vision, it helps to keep the following in mind:

  1. Use metaphors – Metaphors are perhaps the fastest way to share an idea.    Ideas can spread like wildfire.  People can relate to something else, when it’s like something they already know.  Metaphors can also help engage emotions, and bring EQ into the equation.  My favorite metaphor for big projects is to treat them “like an epic adventure.”   This connects to the teams values — adventure and big impact – to the work before us.
  2. Paint the story – What is the current state? … What is the desired future state?   The challenge is the opportunity for change, and value is in the change.    The better you grasp the current state, the people will believe your suggestions for a future state.   Otherwise, people will think you’re “just a dreamer” or you don’t “get it.”   But when you very much do see things as they are, but even better, see how things could be, you build trust and credibility, and inspire hope.   And, the more you practice this, the better you get.   This will help you build your leadership acumen in a deep and actionable way.
  3. Draw your vision – Make it a simple picture.  Seriously, think “What would the headline be?”, or “What would the movie poster, be?”   If you can’t draw your vision, people will have a tough time trying to “see” where you’re going.  Get the crayons out if you have, too.  If you want to get the team on board, this is actually a great exercise.   People can get pretty creating when they are dreaming up headlines of what victory would look like.
  4. Paint the ecosystem – Who are the players in the system and the  “centers of gravity”?  What are the key levers we can pull?  What are the inputs and outputs as we walk the ecosystem?  This is where the rubber meets the road, and the true maestros of leadership take things to the next by using the ecosystem.  They see the bigger picture.  They understand how they fit into the system, and how they leverage the system to make things happen in a much bigger way.   This is how they amplify their impact, and build a platform for optimum success.
  5. Paint the story over time — How does time change things?  Can you chunk up the vision and tell a story of incremental value?  What will it look like in 6 months?  1 year? 3 years? 5 years?   If you can paint the story over time, you truly demonstrate both a better grasp of your temporal skills, but you also show people a more promising path.   It’s one thing to have a great picture of the future, but a lot of people will need to understand how you can make this story unfold.    Otherwise, it’s magic.   And, not everybody believes in magic.

You’ll get a lot of clarity by looking at the system, the current state and the future state, and how you’ll change the system over time.   And sticky metaphors will serve you well.  But sometimes, you still need more.

Paint a “Future Picture”

I’ve searched far and wide for the best practices for creating compelling visions.   I’ve collected and applied various tools over the years, but if I had to share just one, it would be “Future Picture.”

“Future Picture” is a technique that I found it in the book, Flawless Execution, by James D. Murphy.  His book is all about military leadership skills that you can apply to the business world.

Here is what a 12-point Future Picture includes:

  1. Financial Position.
  2. Market Position.
  3. Business Areas.
  4. Innovation.
  5. Insider Perception.
  6. Outsider Perception.
  7. Workforce Characteristics.
  8. Brand: Yes or No.
  9. Corporate Culture.
  10. Corporate citizenship.
  11. Ownership.
  12. Incentive Philosophy

By using a 12-point “Future Picture,” you paint a clear picture in vivid detail of the future internal impact, the market impact, the culture impact, and financial impact that you will make.  Some of the key attributes of the “Future Picture” include addressing the financial position, the market position, business areas you intend to be in, and what any innovations or R&D investments you will likely make.

It’s highly prescriptive, highly effective, and highly repeatable. And, it really works.  If nothing else, it really forces you to clarify your own thinking and to pressure test your vision to see if it will stand and deliver on your promise of a better future.

State Your Vision in a Simple Sticky Way

With that in mind, I’m still a fan of creating a short and memorable vision statement that everyone on the team can easily repeat when asked.   After all, if you think of inspiration as “breathing life into”, then what better way than to bring your vision to life, than with a simple statement that everybody can live and breathe.

Here’s your opportunity for today.  Chance are you’re working on something to build a better future.

What’s the simplest way you can state your vision in a way that lights your fire and inspires others?

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