When it comes to motivating and inspiring people to act, few things are more important for a leader than to lay out a vision that will galvanize their hearts and minds. Yet we find that Vision is one of the lowest rated facets of our leadership model.
I was recently working with a C-suite leader at a property and casualty insurance company whose Vision scores had come up correspondingly low, and we were looking for ways to help him strengthen that muscle. He is a passionate person, and loves what he does, so I knew he had something to build on to learn to inspire his troops. As we walked through his efforts to date I was struck by how crucial sales and marketing skills are to inspiring a shared vision and building followership….and how often they are overlooked.
Selling the Big Picture
In sales, you are talking to clients on a daily basis about what the product or service means, the benefits it creates and what it does for them. When I was selling life insurance, we were selling an intangible product that people do not want to buy. They do, however, want to buy what it does…what it provides for them, and their family: protection, and equity for the future.
We had a saying, “the right brain buys, the left brain justifies,” which meant that even in a highly left brain, numbers-oriented product like life insurance, it’s still the emotional right side of the brain that makes the buying decision. The more factual and logical left side of the brain merely justifies the decisions the right side wants to make. With this guiding principle we learned to paint the picture that appealed largely to the right side of the brain and use the number to support that position. Crafting visionary language for your teams is similar. It must first appeal to the more emotional right side of the brain. Facts and figures just won’t be perceived as inspiring.
To help us build our ability to inspire a vision as leaders, the first company I worked for in a leadership capacity set as one of 3 key leadership competencies, “inspires a shared vision,” and evaluated us on that twice a year. It was the only company I have ever been with that focused on that, measured it, and coached us on what it meant, how to do it and why it was important. Ten years of sales skills and that leadership competency enabled me to inspire a shared vision not only for our clients but for my team.
Intentionally and consistently talking to my team about how our work served our larger organizational vision helped them to see and articulate a direct line of sight between the company’s vision and what we were doing on a daily basis. Rather than talking about selling life insurance, I reminded my team that what we were doing was to give the family members a voice in the process that they don’t have.
Children don’t have a say in the life insurance or disability insurance their parents buy, but they will ultimately be the ones who benefit or pay the price for the decisions their parents make. This means that what we were doing on a daily basis matters to life and death for our clients. Helping my team remember that helped them stay connected to what we do and why we do it. Not every company has that much connection to life or death, but I have found you can get pretty close.
SO, don’t assume your team “just gets it.” Inspire a shared vision for them and help them make the connections.
Building Out A Vision
In working with the leader I was advising I took him through a process to help him articulate this for his company—what the company does and why it is inspirational.
I started by asking him to talk about what the company does. His initial reaction was “We take care of people’s stuff and we are the only ones there if there is an emergency.”
I asked him to explore why that matters? You are insuring the stuff. But if you think about what people do with their stuff – whether it is a boat, or a car – it is to go places and do things with their families and friends. You are insuring stuff, but what you are really doing in insuring the family’s ability to create and preserve memories with their families. Because without that protection all of those potential memories are gone…they will never be made. If you make it about the left-brain financial stuff it will not be particularly inspiring but if you shift your messaging to engage the right brain and talk about what the company does for families, that is a whole different conversation.
As a result of this realization, my client came to develop messaging that illuminated the real and more inspiring purpose; that they help create, preserve and protect families and the experiences they have as well as the memories those experiences create. They protect their clients’ legacy of family memories.
The result of this shift was startling in the way it galvanized and energized his team. They had never thought of what they do in this way, and it was exciting to get on board with supporting the work of a company with a vision like that.
Uncovering the Inspiration
Here are 3 ways to help articulate your own vision more clearly to yourself, and to inspire others with your new perspective:
- Go on a Vision Listening Tour – Over lunch or coffee, ask people to tell you what inspires them about working for your company. You’ll be surprised by what you hear. You will certainly hear some predictable content but you will also hear ideas you hadn’t thought of….and also find inspiring! These ideas become arrows you can add to your vision quiver.
- Ask the Five Whys – when someone says, “I love what I do,” ask why and then ask why again….and again. Often we have to ask many as 5 times to get to the real root of our motivations. Then ask yourself what it is about this business that you love…and ask 5 times and write down your answers. Analyze what comes through and make it part of your lexicon.
- Turn Vision from a Noun into a Verb – Nouns aren’t particularly action oriented so add the words “inspire a shared” in front of it so it becomes “Inspire a shared vision.” This will help you think of vision as a competency to be executed on. Think: “what have I done this week to inspire a shared vision with my team?....how have I helped create a direct line of sight between what they do every day and our broader organizational purpose?”
Vision, or more specifically, “inspiring a shared vision” can feel daunting to many executives. They are not always clear on how or even if they should talk about it. Some even feel that it’s not their job and that it’s the CEO’s responsibility.
Building followership by inspiring a shared vision, however, is every leader’s responsibility. We need to talk about vision consistently to keep our teams aligned with organizational goals as well as keep them engaged with their work on a daily basis. Be intentional about creating a direct line of sight for your teams between what they do and where they are going, and you will be amazed at the passion you can create.
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