Think back to the last project you led. How did you begin? Were you successful getting people on board, or was it more challenging than you’d planned? No matter what you’re leading, getting people to line up behind a vision is the first order of business when you take on a new leadership role.
Satirist and author of Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift once said, “Vision is the art of seeing the invisible.” Because “vision” is an imagined future state, it is indeed invisible. For a compelling vision to work, all people must see what’s possible for the team. Here’s the tough part—if everyone is looking at something invisible, and using their imagination to create it, you’re going to get an output that looks something like this:
Vision = Ideas + X (where X = the number of people on the team)
So, 15 people on the team yields 15 different potential versions of the vision.
How’s a newly appointed leader to navigate through that?
Three ideas to consider:
Explore. As the leader, it’s perfectly fine to put your ideas on the table, as long as you invite your team members to do so as well. In this part of the process, you want to encourage people to engage in divergent thinking, which open possibilities, not closes them. Invite people into the conversation with questions like:
- “If we had no constraints in resources, what would we want to do?”
- “What is the best possible outcome for this project?”
- “As we look as this project, what do you see as the big picture?”
Be Bold. At work, many factors conspire to keep people from acting boldly. Resist the impulse to “edit” at this stage of the process. This is about stretching, not acting rashly. Show your team you are excited to be leading them and figure out together where the boundaries of “what’s possible” lie.
- “How can we kick this idea up a notch?”
- “Where is the edge of our comfort zone on this?”
- “I think we can even better than we are right now. Will you join me?”
Test Assumptions. This is where you seek counsel outside of your immediate team to determine the feasibility of your co-created vision. Check in with trusted peers and opinion leaders within your organization—people who have your best interest in mind and will tell you like it is.
- “What are the implications of this vision?”
- “Where are the gaps—what have we missed?”
- “Who else should I talk to that would have a perspective on this?”
Exploring your team’s reality gets all ideas on the table. Boldness in the right measure helps create excitement. Testing assumptions helps keep you out of the weeds. Try these three tactics and see if you can create a vision that is a beacon that guides your team to project success.
Updated in 2019 to reflect changes in the company name of Wiley.
Disclosure: the concepts of Enthusiasm, Clarity and Dialogue come from the book The Work of Leaders. for which there is a corresponding Work of Leaders self-assessment. I’m an authorized independent partner for John Wiley & Sons, the publisher that produces the Work of Leaders assessment.
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