Communicating the Vision
If you look at some of the most compelling visions in history—think John F. Kennedy’s vision of getting a man on the moon (“…not because it is easy, but because it is hard”) or Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…”—they are very personal. But because they were communicated effectively, each became the vision of a much larger group of people.
Creating the vision is only half the battle. Leaders also need to communicate their vision, and ‘sell’ it to others. John Kotter, the change guru, found that not having a compelling vision was one reason why change programmes fail. He also, however, found that under-communicating the vision was another.
Why Communicate Your Vision?
There are two main reasons to communicate your vision.
If you don’t tell people where you want to go, they won’t follow you.
This may sound obvious, but it is surprising how often it is overlooked. Nobody is going to follow a leader blindly. This is especially true if you lead by consent (for example, if you are a politician or community leader). People want to know how you see the future before they decide if they like your ideas and you are worth following.
Your followers need to know where they are going in order to take action
You cannot do everything yourself. The best leaders know how to delegate effectively.
Communicating a vision not only provides you with followers, it also tells your followers where to aim. This means that they can start to plan how to move from ‘now’ to ‘then’, and make progress (and for more about this, see our pages on Strategic Thinking and Action Planning).
Communicating Your Vision
Our page on Creating a Compelling Vision sets out that a powerful vision needs to be:
Simple, and easy to communicate: no more than half a page, or 60 seconds of explanation; and
Appealing to both emotion and logic: reasonable, but attractive.
A carefully crafted vision, therefore, lends itself to easy communication: it is designed to be easy to remember and pass on, and also to be something that people want to talk about.
Design is therefore an important aspect of communication. Get it right, and many of the communication difficulties will fall away. However, it is important to remember one rule.
The Most Important Rule of Vision Communication
It is impossible to over-communicate your vision.
Leaders need to talk about and communicate their vision constantly.
This is one reason why you really need to be passionate about it: you are going to talk about it a lot, and you need to be able to stay enthusiastic. If you’re not that interested, nobody else will be either.
Some leaders fall into the trap of explaining their vision at a launch event, and assuming that everyone has now ‘got it’.
You can be confident that half the people in the room won’t have heard you: they will have been thinking about lunch, or their children, or a problem in the office. But even those who have heard you will take convincing. If they don’t hear about your vision again, they will either forget about it, or assume that you didn’t mean it.
You need to keep describing and explaining your vision, over and over again, and using lots of different routes: speeches, staff newsletters, social media, intranet sites. More, other people must start talking about it and communicating it naturally. It must become a part of everyday conversations in the organisation.
Your vision must become ubiquitous: it must become a part of ‘how we do things around here’.
Making a Vision Ubiquitous: The Importance of Stories
A vision must make an emotional appeal, as well as work intellectually and logically. One of the best ways to achieve that is to use personal stories, both your own and others’.
In practice, this means:
Understanding why the vision is important to you
Leaders need to be self-aware, and understand their emotions and those of others. They need to understand what drives their actions, and why certain things matter. Without this understanding, they will be unable to communicate the vision effectively to others by making both an emotional and logical appeal.
Being able to tell the story of the vision’s personal importance
Telling stories appeals to us at a very deep level, because it harks back both to childhood and to our ancestors when telling stories was the only way to remember and pass on important information.
Telling the story of why this vision matters to you—creating a narrative around it—is therefore a very good way to ensure that it appeals emotionally to others.
For introverts in particular, however, talking about emotions and opening themselves up to others is hard. Fortunately, showing that you are a little uncomfortable can also be a good way to demonstrate how much it matters.
Leaders do not have to be perfect; a little imperfection is very human and therefore also very appealing.
Allowing (and encouraging) others to explain why it is important to them
To become ubiquitous, a vision has to become personal to others as well. By telling your own story, and being open about the importance of this vision to you, both intellectually and emotionally, you encourage others to explain their stories too. Sharing stories creates a powerful connection between individuals, and between individuals and ideas. Great leaders encourage story-telling around desirable ideas.
Slick is not necessarily best
There are many, many ways to communicate a vision: in writing, in speeches, via social media, and so on.
The most important things to understand, however, are that you must keep communicating it - it is impossible to over-communicate - and you must convey its personal importance.
Slick communication is actually less important than showing why it matters, because ‘why’ creates a compelling reason for change. And that, after all, is why this vision is necessary.