So much of our thinking at the end of the year is about budgets, goals and initiatives. If we have time, we also reflect on accomplishments. While necessary, this is the work of management—it is not leadership.
The leader’s work is always more about what is possible than what is the current reality. That’s why I want to end the year on a note about one of the most powerful tools leaders have to renew, refresh and reengage their people: the power of visioning.
Back in September, I wrote about what leaders do to drive their vision. I mentioned three key actions that leaders take:
- creating the space to think about new ways of thinking
- making the right connections with people to get them onboard
- sharing the story of the vision to capture the hearts and minds of the entire organization.
Here at the close of the year—at the end of one cycle and the beginning of another—it’s important to make full use of the tool of visioning.
Although most people will tell you they loved the visions that their leaders challenged them with, most will also admit that they would have never had the guts to think the vision was possible.
There are also many leaders who will tell you that they didn’t really know or understand the power of visioning until they put in the effort to create one, they were amazed at what new possibilities they brought into reality.
A February 2011 Inc. magazine article on this topic tells the story of Ari Weinzweig, who turned his delicatessen into a community of eight businesses as a result of learning about visioning. His story simplifies the process of visioning and provides easy-to-understand guidelines. I encourage you try the process for yourself and to invite others to join you, which is what my monthly CEO Forum group did.
Like Ari, many in this group are operating day-to-day without a clearly defined vision—either in their heads or on paper. They spend their time addressing the challenges that besieged small businesses every day. As these CEOs talk about their challenges, keeping their employees engaged is at the top of everyone’s list. All of them have a common challenge, however, as they talk about their businesses. This is where visioning can help.
Where to allocate your resources, how to prioritize your time—when your focus is on visioning, you’re much more likely to come up with innovative responses to these questions. As Weinzweig observes in the Inc. article, a great vision “gets you and everyone in the organization excited to come to work,” but it’s not a strategic plan: “it articulates where we are going,” he explains, “while the plan tells us how.”
Weinzweig’s 8-step process can take as little as 30 minutes:
- Pick your topic.
- Pick your time frame—your vision should move beyond present-day problems but not go so far into the future that you have no idea of how to get there.
- Make a list of past achievements that have made you proud.
- Bang out a first draft in 15 to 30 minutes. Write as if your vision has already become a reality—and make sure you’ve built into it things you’re passionate about.
- Read your draft through from beginning to end, then start making edits as necessary.
- Repeat step 6 two or three more times.
- Solicit input on what you’ve written from people you trust—incorporate their suggestions as you see fit.
- Share the vision with everyone who will be involved in implementing it.
My CEO Forum focused on the first four steps. All the CEOs had a chance to share what their topic would be, choose their time frame, read out loud their list of achievements they were proud of, and then create a draft of their vision. A number of the CEO commented on how the process had sparked a level of creativity in them that they hadn’t achieved before, and resolved to incorporate the process more regularly into their thinking.
As a leader, the task of engaging and renewing employees starts with you. Are you tapping into the power of visioning as fully as you might?