Monday 11 August 2014 9:12 pm

How leaders can develop a truly powerful vision

It’s vital to understand the future in rational, but also emotive terms.
Too often, leaders use financial goals to motivate people. But  employees say they don’t get out of bed in the morning to achieve financial objectives – they come to work wanting to be inspired by a sense of doing something important, something that makes a difference. And they want to be proud of the way their company behaves.
Some leaders don’t think about the value of purpose, and the purpose of values, so they don’t link their financial goals to the passions of their people. A strong sense of purpose can be hugely motivating to staff, and is even more empowering when coupled with a set of values that your people believe. Values define how people in the organisation behave in pursuit of their objectives, and their actions define a business to the outside world. Those intangible values – often dismissed as “soft and fluffy” – translate into actions on the ground, which translate into a healthy bottom line.


Every leader I have interviewed used the future to drive the present. Those that were most inspiring painted a vivid picture of success, often describing the future in both rational terms (the numbers) and emotive terms (how it would feel for all concerned). This bringing together of the rational and the emotional was key to inspiring people. Fusing the future vision (what success will look and feel like) to the purpose (what important thing we are here to do) and to the values (how we do it) was what stirred hearts and minds.
Feelings and emotions are the driving force of our lives. Great communication has to be about feelings as much as it is about facts. Your vision needs to contain elements that are uplifting and inspiring, as well as elements that are about clear goal setting and prioritisation.


What elements should such a vision framework contain if it is to provide employees with a complete picture of the strategic intent of the business? I believe it should have two sides to it.
First, it must capture the emotional and inspiring purpose of the organisation, the values that drive actions, and the desired standards of behaviours that stem from these values. These are all on the emotional side of the framework and are what employees consistently find most inspiring. This is what I call the purpose side of the framework. 
Second, it must capture the desired future, the four or five strategic priorities that must be delivered to achieve the future, and the key objectives that will deliver each of the strategic priorities. This side of the framework is the numerate side – the strategic, highly rational and measurable aspects of the vision story. This is the performance side of the framework.
Research I have done among managers shows that, when asked to rate their inspiration quotient, they feel weakest in the area of developing a compelling vision. Yet employees say this is one of the most important elements to help them be more engaged and productive. Every leader will benefit if they tried harder to express a vision that appeals to the heart as much as the mind.
Kevin Murray specialises in strategic communications, reputation management and leadership coaching. His latest book is Communicate to Inspire: A Guide for Leaders (Kogan Page).

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