Three essential elements for communicating your vision to colleagues and investors

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It's not just in fairy tales that gifts often come with curses. Like Midas with his golden touch, who ends up turning his daughter into a metallic statue, leaders can possess great strengths that come with hidden dangers. One of those strengths, believe it or not, is their capacity for visioning.

That’s right—your ability to see a blazing path through the conventional to a breakthrough approach or a revolutionary product may actually be a liability. Leaders who are true visionaries see the future with such clarity that it’s easy for them to leave their followers behind, feeling lost, confused, or even frustrated.

A leader caught up in a vision makes me think of a prophet lost in a trance. In both cases, the person with the revelation thinks and moves in a world apart from those around them. While they may see, hear, taste, feel, and smell the New Jerusalem, everyone else remains firmly planted on Main Street.

So how do you get your team or potential funders (maybe even your family) to travel with you to the world of your vision?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic bean you can plant to grow a beanstalk that will take them there. Nor is there any fail-proof spell you can chant. (If you’re a powerful speaker, you may be able to rustle up some energy, but that will soon fizzle unless it also comes with clarity.)

You’ll need something that may, from your lofty perspective on the situation, seem very prosaic: a map.

Understand that most people live in the present, without your ability to instantly time-travel to an alternative reality. And while it may be tempting to take a Dr. Who approach and build a time-travelling machine, if I recall correctly, Dr. Who’s phone booth wasn’t always reliable. You can’t risk spending your precious time creating an elaborate solution that may just end up landing your audience on the wrong planet.

So start with a simple map. Not a slide deck the length of a feature film or a vision statement that runs to so many pages it needs a spiral binding. Just a basic map showing how to travel from here (where your audience is) to there (the future you envision).

Here are three essential elements your map will need to include:

1. “We are here” marker

Before your audience can make the journey to your Nirvana, they need some help getting their bearings. To help them do that, paint a detailed description of the current landscape.

This doesn’t mean problematizing the present. Acknowledge what’s working, celebrate achievements, and point to opportunities. Be candid, too, about limitations, and if there are problems your vision addresses, point those out in detail—being careful, of course, not to blame anyone in your target audience for the shortcomings you notice.

2. Recognizable destination

Describe exactly what the world will look like once your vision has come to fruition. Give your visionary imagination free rein so you can get as specific as possible.

Imagine you’re on a ship exploring the ocean, and you’re the only person onboard with a telescope. You sight land ahead and shout “Land ahoy!” Now, imagine the reaction from your crewmates. As they huddle around you, they pepper you with questions. What do you see? It is a big piece of land or a tiny island? Are there any trees? People? Houses or buildings? Ships by the shore? A dock where we can disembark?

As the one person with the telescope, it’s your responsibility to narrate what you see, in as much depth as you possibly can. So avoid vague phrases and get concrete. Give examples of how the organization will function in the brave new world you envision. Use quantitative language wherever possible (e.g., We’ll have up to 20 new staff and a Beijing office versus Our team will grow by leaps and bounds.)

If you have trouble painting the future in such detail, one technique you could try is describing your vision as if it’s already come true. For example, start your description with a sentence something like this: It’s two years from today. We’ve just closed our first multinational deal, with a ventilation firm in China…

3. Connector road

Mapping your vision doesn’t mean providing a step-by-step strategy for getting there. (For a clear description of the difference between vision and strategy, check out Michael Hyatt’s latest book, The Vision-Driven Leader. ) But it does mean giving your audience assurance that there will be a path leading to the destination.

Keep in mind that wherever “We are Here” is, it’s probably a pretty comfy spot for your audience. And as a visionary, you’re asking people to leave that familiar territory and join you a voyage into the unknown. Even once they start to get a glimmer of where you want to take them, chances are your audience will want some more information before they trust you enough to step out beside you.

Give them some sense, then, of what will make the visionary possible. Maybe you can remind them of a similar journey you’ve taken together, or of a journey another organization has successfully made. Or perhaps you can point out the first couple of milestones along the route, which lie easily within sight of the practically-minded. At last show the rough route you expect will lead to your destination; even if it’s just a bridle path or a logging road now, drawing it for your audience will give them the confidence and the courage they need to start to believe in the possibilities you see.

These three elements won’t provide your audience with all the detail they’ll need to buy into your vision completely, but they should go a long way toward generating curiosity and trust. Then you can build on that foundation as you entice your audience to take one step further toward the future you see, then another, then another…

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