“Vision is one of the least understood – and most overused – terms in the language…when you have superb alignment, a visitor could drop into your organization from another planet and infer the vision without having to read it on paper.” — Jim Collins, Author of Built to Last and Good to Great

Strong leaders make people hopeful about the future. As editor and writer Norman Cousins reflects, “The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started.” Hope is a key activator. When faced with major changes, leaders optimistically focus everyone’s attention on the possibilities. They look for signs of progress and reinforce those to build forward momentum. A compelling vision of the team or organization’s preferred future keeps people from obsessing over present-day obstacles or getting stuck in the past.

Strong leaders inspire performance by reaching people’s imaginations with vivid images. They use physical models, stories, metaphors, examples of past successes, descriptive language – alone or in combination, with plenty of repetition – to help people form a compelling mental picture of where the team or organization is headed.

At The CLEMMER Group, we have been working with Peter Jensen, one of the nation’s top sports psychologists, and his organization, to deliver their powerful program, called “Coaching for High Performance,” to our clients. After decades of experience advising professional and amateur coaches – as well as many Olympic athletes – Peter has found that the best coaches are those who can help their athletes or teams clearly see the performance levels they are shooting for. “Imagery is the language of performance,” Peter declares. “Until people can see what needs to be done and themselves performing the steps to doing it, they can’t perform.”

When he was three years old, our son Chris had an unusual way of dealing with parental authority. Upon being told to stop doing something he shouldn’t do, he would quickly cover his eyes. If he couldn’t see you, then he could carry on as if you weren’t there.

Like children, organizations don’t always see what’s happening. Rapid shifts in the marketplace had made it necessary for one company to overhaul its line of products and services. The company’s management team had been working very hard to make the necessary changes, but the members of the team seemed to be laboring at cross-purposes and constantly tripping over each other. We were called in to assess the underlying causes and to help them take a new approach.

Our investigation soon revealed that the teamwork problem derived from incompatible views of the company’s new business model, as well as its product and service strategies. It was as if all the managers were attempting to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle, with each assigned to pieces of a specific color – some green, some brown, others blue, and so on – with the result that each team had a different idea of what the finished puzzle should look like…The solution was to restore their collective vision so that everyone was looking at the same picture.

Great teams and organizations rally around a shared vision. Team members feel connected and proud to be involved. Strong leaders know and care about the people on their teams. They have frequent discussions about each person’s individual goals and performance objectives. These coaching conversations help the leader see the extent to which each person understands and buys into the vision. It’s also an opportunity to clarify the vision and further increase the “buy-in” factor. These leaders then look for every opportunity to align that individual’s strengths and aspirations with the vision of the organization or team. The vision helps to define a performance standard that inspires creative approaches and stretches performance targets. Adds Cynthia Tragge-Lakra, manager of executive development at General Electric, “Leaders need to energize people so that they rally behind the vision and take leadership roles themselves in bringing that vision to life.”

Successful leaders broadly share their vision and encourage team members to experiment, pilot, and muck around looking for the pathways that will lead them to make that vision a reality…Such encouragement could well lead to the thinking espoused here by Dr. Seuss.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.

– Dr. Seuss, Seuss-isms for Success