Episode: Encore Episode: 4 Steps to Communicating Vision
Michael Hyatt: In the year 871, England was in trouble. For decades, the country had been slowly taken over by the Danes, fierce Viking raiders led by their warrior king Guthrum. The Danes controlled most of Britain, and the Anglo-Saxon natives were confined to the small southern kingdom of Wessex. Education had ground to a halt. Commerce was continually disrupted by Danish raiders. The country was indefensible and in total disarray.
Megan Hyatt Miller: Wessex was ruled by a very young king with little experience. When Alfred took the throne on April 23, 871, he was just 22 years old and suffered from poor health, but unlike most monarchs at the time, Alfred had a great vision for his country. He saw the key to securing the future was not in brutally oppressing his neighbors but in creating a society of learning, prosperity, and strong defenses.
Michael: Young Alfred reorganized the army for greater effectiveness and fought bravely against the Danes. Even better, he created a navy to combat the Danes’ greatest advantage: sea power. It took time, but Alfred’s vision for the country became a reality. In 878, he won the decisive Battle of Edington, securing a final victory over Guthrum and his forces.
Megan: That’s where Alfred showed his true greatness. Rather than taking revenge, he was merciful. He treated Guthrum as an equal and allowed his former enemies to continue occupying a portion of the British island. Under Alfred’s visionary reign, Anglo-Saxon England experienced a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity.
Michael: But not all English kings were so successful. Just 80 years after Alfred’s reign, Ethelred II took the throne. Like Alfred, Ethelred was a young king, but unlike his predecessor, Ethelred lacked a unifying vision for the country. Because of that, he was completely unprepared when the Danes started raiding again. Within a few years, the Danes were back on top and the English were forced to pay tribute. Worse, Ethelred’s ineffective response produced chaos in the country.
Megan: It’s no wonder historians gave Ethelred II the nickname “Ethelred the Unready.” It’s actually a pun based on Ethelred’s name, which means noble counsel. In Old English, unready means something like poor advice. So, “Ethelred the Noble Counsel” was actually “Ethelred the Bad Planner.”
Michael: There is just no substitute for vision. When we have a compelling, unifying view of the future and when we’re able to communicate, it can motivate people to accomplish astonishing things, and those who lack vision… Well, they’re just unready for the challenge of leadership.
Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. In this episode, we’re going to explore the importance of vision to energize and motivate our teams.
Megan: Today, Dad, we’re actually going to dig into four steps for driving that vision deep within any organization, which I think is a really key skill for leaders, but it’s not so easily acquired in many cases.
Michael: It’s not. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about vision. People think you either have it or you don’t. A lot of leaders are intimidated by the fact that they don’t seem to have a compelling vision of the future, but this is really something anyone can develop, and it’s something important to develop, because, as leaders, we have to lead first by vision. If we can’t create a more compelling picture of the future, something that’s really desirable, it’s going to be very hard to motivate our team to change or to take on big tasks or really to fulfill our purpose.
Michael: The very first step is you have to make your vision inspiring. People get excited about making more money, but not for long. That’s not enough of a vision. I’ve worked in companies where that was the vision, but it’s not enough. What people really want is a sense of significance. I think that’s particularly true with Millennials. Vision cannot be about personal success or achievement. It has to be more than that. It has to inspire others to get beyond themselves and change the world for the better.
Megan: Absolutely. I think that’s because everybody wants to be part of something that’s larger than themselves. No one’s individual life is really big enough to satisfy that desire we all have for significance.
Michael: Yeah. I think that’s one of the things we have to do as leaders: to create or point to that larger story, what it is we’re in business or in ministry or in nonprofit work to do. What’s the bigger why behind the what?
Megan: That reminds me of a quote from the author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who says, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” Wow. That’s a great quote.
Michael: This is why there has to be a sense in which the vision, just like in goal setting, has to be something challenging, difficult, outside of the comfort zone. If it’s just something that isn’t going to make a difference or something that’s just kind of business as usual, nobody is going to get inspired by that. It has to be more than that.
I think we have to dial it up, not where it’s in the delusional zone, which, again, is something I talk about in Your Best Year Ever, but something that’s squarely in the discomfort zone. It has to be challenging. People want to be up for something that requires their best effort, that requires innovation in their thinking, that inspires their imagination, and it’s up to us, as leaders, to ask ourselves the question, “Does what we’re trying to do as a company or as an organization create that kind of inspiration? Is it something that’s challenging or is it just business as usual?”
Megan: Okay, I want to back up for a second. I’m going to ask you a leadership question, because I have a feeling there are some folks who are listening right now who are wondering, “Okay, that’s great if you already have a vision and now you’re going to go enlist people in it, but what if you don’t know what your vision is?” What if you’re a leader and you are kind of stuck in the day-to-day and you’re not sure how to come up with a compelling vision in the first place?
Michael: I think part of what you have to do is stand in the future. Let me give you an example, again, back from my publishing world. When I first became the publisher of Nelson Books, one of the imprints or divisions of Thomas Nelson Publishers (one of 14), it was dead last in every possible metric. The division was not doing well.
I got hired to take over the division, and the first thing I did was I went out and I started to think about “What do I want? Why is it important that we turn this division around, and what do I see three years into the future?” I tried to take a step into the future three years from now and say, “What do I see?” If I lived three years from now and I was actually describing what existed…not what I wanted but what already existed…
Megan: That’s a key difference.
Michael: You have to describe it in the present tense. I don’t think it’s helpful to describe it as a future reality or even as something past, because that’s kind of like playing games with ourselves, but something that is.
Megan: So kind of like you have a time machine. You’re going to jump in the time machine and go into the future and describe what you see when you get out.
Michael: Or if Martians suddenly invaded the earth and were reporting back to Mars about what they saw. You want to describe it like that. I was saying, for example, “Nelson Books publishes seven New York Times Best Sellers per year.” That was a descriptive sentence. Or “We sell 10 books that sell over 100,000 units per year. We have a stable of best-selling authors. We have great relationships with authors and agents. We have a staff of extremely talented, extremely committed people.”
I don’t remember the particulars, but I wrote it down in as visual and concrete a form as I could. That’s really what we mean about vision. It’s nothing more, nothing less. What do you see? What would you like to see? And this is a key point (we’ve talked about this in previous episodes; in fact, in last week’s episode): you have to eliminate the limiting beliefs. Don’t stop yourself when you can’t see how it is you’re going to accomplish it.
Megan: You don’t need to, because, presumably, if you’re three years in the future you’ve already figured that out. You’re just describing what happened. You don’t need to know how it happened.
Michael: Well, let me say this too. The what is way more important than the how. Until you get clear on the what, the how won’t show up. So many leaders get stuck at this point, because they go, “I’d like to do this, but, oh, there’s no way we could get the money. There’s no way we could get the funding. There’s no way we have the contacts.” They derail themselves before they ever get started because they ask the strategy question before the vision question.
Michael: Okay, the second step is make it concrete. It’s not enough to be inspirational, because sometimes when it’s inspirational it’s vague. You’re relying on metaphors and stories and all that, but you have to reduce that to a set of concrete, very specific statements so people get a sense of what it is you’re trying to build, because unless you can describe it people can’t build it.
Megan: And they won’t know if they’ve built it once they’re finished.
Michael: Exactly. I don’t think this is something like so many organizations do, where they reduce it to a slogan or some really pithy statement. It has to be more than that. For example, ours for our company at Michael Hyatt & Company is about four pages long.
Megan: This is like a narrative document. This is kind of like your story or your vision for the future but expressed in narrative form. It’s not meant to be on a plaque, is what you’re saying.
Michael: Exactly. Here’s an example. We have basically four primary propositions in our vision statement. I’ll just give you one, and then I’ll show you how we elaborate it. Again, this is maybe four pages long. We say, for example, “We want to cultivate a work culture that is congruent with our core values.” That’s one of the four basic tenets of our vision for the future.
Then under that we say things like, “We only recruit people who are highly talented, extremely competent, and possess impeccable character. They’re positive, confident, and willing to serve others.” By the way, notice I’m stating it in the present tense. Or how about this? “Our employees know our core ideology, can articulate it to others, and understand how they fit into the larger picture,” or “Each of our employees knows his or her unique ability and is able to express it in his or her specific role.”
We’re getting, again, very specific. Not too specific but with enough specificity that people begin to see it for themselves. That’s what we’re really after as visioneers, to use Andy Stanley’s word. We’re trying to see it with enough clarity and describe it with enough clarity that other people see what we see so we can build together what it is we’re trying to create.
Megan: Okay, I have all of these questions that are popping into my mind, because I’ve not ever written one of these myself, and I bet a lot of people who are listening are in the same boat. You’re describing both the internal reality of the company in the future but also the external reality. You’re not just talking about the products we’re going to have created three years from now, for example, or something like that, but also what the company itself looks like, the culture of the company.
Michael: I think of it as kind of four big categories. I want to talk about, first of all…What is the culture we’re trying to build internally, and who is a part of doing this with us? Who’s the team? Secondly…What are the products or the services we offer? Thirdly…How do we get those to market? What does our marketing look like? How is that different? What’s our vision for that? Finally…What’s the impact we’re having in the world? That can be the financial impact we’re having as a result of our business, but it can also be in other less concrete ways, like reach or influence or something that’s a little bit less concrete.
Megan: Okay, say those four areas one more time, because I think people are going to want to take notes.
Michael: All right. So, work culture, or the team we’re trying to attract. Secondly, the products we’re trying to build or the services we want to offer. Thirdly, the marketing strategies or something about the marketing. How do we get this to the market? How do we get the word out? Then, fourthly, the impact we’re having on the world and what the results are for us.
Megan: That’s fantastic. Another question for you is what’s the difference between this vision statement or vision document and a mission statement, which is more of the kind of thing you might see up on the wall somewhere in a company?
Michael: Typically, those are shorter.
Megan: Not four pages.
Michael: Exactly. That’s where I think something short that reminds us about why we’re in business or why our organization exists, and this does a couple of things. It focuses on the people we’re trying to reach, and it talks about our unique solution or the thing we’re bringing to them, and then the result. Here’s ours at Michael Hyatt & Company: “We’re a leadership development company.”
That’s the first part. What is it that we do? We’re a leadership development company. This is our market: “We help overwhelmed high-achievers…” We know a lot of those because we’re a company full of those. “We help overwhelmed high-achievers get the clarity, confidence, and tools they need to win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence.” Make sense?
Megan: It does make sense. I’m inspired again already. All right, before we continue our conversation, I want to pause for just a minute to talk about your latest book, Your Best Year Ever.
Michael: People may be tempted to think it’s too late to make this your best year ever. It’s not too late. You can begin at any time. Think of it like this. It’s like a boat drifting on the sea that doesn’t have a rudder. When would be a good time to get a rudder? Anytime would be a good time to get a rudder. When would be a good time to have a sail or some means of propulsion? Anytime would be good. Right?
The alternative to designing your year and to designing the rest of the year is just to drift through it, hoping something great happens, but nobody ever drifted to a destination they would have chosen. The alternative is to be intentional, to design your year, and that’s exactly what my new book Your Best Year Ever is designed to do.
Megan: What I love about this book is it gives you really practical steps to walk through the process of setting your goals for the year, and as you just said, you can do that anytime. You don’t have to do it on January 1 or even before. Anytime is fine to get going on your year.
Michael: That’s right. One of the things I think people have appreciated about the book and one of the things the Amazon reviews reflect… By the way, almost all of them have been 5-star. It’s rated 4.9 out of 5 right now, at least at the time we’re recording this. They appreciate the fact that it’s research-driven but it has a lot of stories and really practical advice.
Megan: It does. The truth is we’ve had over 32,000 people go through this content and have their lives changed by it, and we want that for you too if you’re listening.
Michael: That’s right. By the way, that 32,000 was people who went through the course. I don’t know how many people have gone through the book so far, but we have sold tens of thousands.
Megan: Okay, great. I hope all of you will go check that out at yourbestyeareverbook.com. Now let’s get back to our discussion on how to communicate vision.
Michael: The first step was to make it inspiring. The second one was to make it concrete. The third one is to make it practical. A vision statement is hugely helpful in making decisions. For example, I read that one about the employee culture we want to create. Well, guess what? That vision of that kind of culture informs the way we do recruiting.
Megan: Yes, it does.
Michael: It informs how we interview. Sometimes new employees will sort of jokingly talk about how long it took to get into the company, because we have this long extensive process, but that’s because we’re trying to create a very specific culture that is aligned with the vision we have of what we want that culture to look like. That informs at a very practical level how we design the recruiting and how we design the onboarding process.
Megan: It’s important to remember, too, that when you have a specific vision it brings clarity. It enables your executive assistant, for example, to decide what appointments to schedule or not, what opportunities you’re going to pursue or not, because it always gets checked against the filter of your vision.
Michael: Or it even can describe how we create our products. For example, one of the main tenets of our vision statement is “We create products that enable people to win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence.” First of all, if that’s our purpose statement, then somehow that has to get expressed in the products and services we offer. So under that, we have some statements like this: “We understand that our ultimate product is not the content itself but the experience the customer has by means of our products.”
For example, when we recently did the Best Year Ever live event, we engineered that experience all the way down to the little details, from the gifts people received when they walked in to what they experienced in terms of the music as they were doing the personal exercises to the lighting in the room, all of that, because the details actually matter. In fact, I love something Oprah says: “Love is in the details.”
Megan: The details are really in service of the vision.
Michael: That’s exactly right. Here’s another example. We say, “We create products that delight our customers, exceed their expectations, and deliver dramatic transformation.” Now do we always do that? No. But that is our vision, and that’s the filter we run even the practical things through. So when we’re looking, for example, at the Full Focus Planner or even Your Best Year Ever, a book, we’re asking ourselves the question, “Is this going to exceed our customers’ experience? If not, what else can we build into it that would help it do that?”
Megan: I think that goal of transformation is always in our minds. The truth is we do pretty well most of the time, which is in large part to the fact that we have a clear vision. One of the things I see as a thread in what you’re saying is that clarity around your vision is a powerful decision-making tool.
Megan: Without that, it’s going to be hard to make good decisions as a leader.
Michael: Yeah, because then you just tend to be expedient or what’s convenient or, worse… This is the worst thing, where you’re just reacting to your environment. This opportunity comes up, and somebody says, “Hey, I think it would be great if you did X, Y, Z.” For example, I just got that speaking engagement or request the other day.
Megan: This happens all the time.
Michael: One of our team members was saying, “Hey, this looks like a great opportunity…a great opportunity to make money, a great opportunity to get in front of an audience,” and I said, “But here’s the problem. It doesn’t really fit in with our vision of where we’re going.”
What I want to do… I don’t mind speaking at the right events, but by and large, we try to create our own events, because there we can engineer the entire experience and because we’re really after transformation. That’s way different than me going to somebody else’s event and speaking almost like a hired mercenary. I kind of come in, shoot up the place, leave, never get to see the transformation, and that’s not really what I’m after.
Megan: Not so much.
Michael: It’s not congruent with my vision of what the future needs to be.
Megan: Okay, so deconstruct the process a little bit there. If you’re a leader and opportunities are coming your way… For example, speaking requests or maybe somebody comes to you with an idea for a partnership on a new product or a new business endeavor or something like that. How does a leader leverage their vision to make a good decision in that circumstance?
Michael: Well, first of all, this is a very compelling argument for why you need a written vision statement. That becomes a litmus test. It becomes a way for you to filter out the real opportunities that are congruent with your vision. It might give you an opportunity to say, “You know what? We need to change the vision, because that’s really interesting. That opens up something we haven’t even thought about before.” But by and large, it’s an opportunity to accept or reject opportunities, and that’s one of the reasons I love vision statements.
Megan: I do too. I also think it helps you have confidence in saying no, which is something you know leaders really struggle with, something we struggle with. It’s really common. One of the easiest ways you can say no is when you have the clarity that it just doesn’t fit with your vision. That’s great. Our good friend Skip Prichard is an expert on leadership communication, and he has just released his first book called The Book of Mistakes.
Michael: I love this.
Megan: I love that title. He recently shared a few insights about what happens when a leader fails to communicate vision or expectations clearly.
Skip Prichard: There are many mistakes leaders can make when communicating their vision, and just three of them that come to mind immediately that either I’ve witnessed or I’ve personally made are very important to beware of.
One of them is saying it once. What a mistake it is to say something once. I recall the first time I was leading an organization, and I said, “Well, I said it already.” The human resources leader came up and said, “Skip, it doesn’t matter if you’ve said it already. You have to say it multiple times.” What an incredible lesson that was for me. You have to repeat yourself. A great leader sticks with a message and drives it home and is consistent in sharing it.
The second one that comes to mind… What a mistake it is if you stick to the script, or another way of saying it is if you’re not reading the audience. There are times when you want to stick to a script. You’re maybe doing an investor call or something that’s very scripted, but many more times you have to be flexible as a leader. You have to read the room. You have to see what’s happening.
The example that comes to mind all the time in my mind is Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream,” which is obviously one of the most iconic speeches of all time. The passion and everything he brought to that… He left the script. He had been talking about a dream for some time, but somebody actually shouted out from the crowd, “Tell them about your dream, Martin!”
Male: “Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream.” I noticed when she shouts to him that he looks over at her in real time momentarily, but then he takes the text of the written speech that’s been prepared and he slides it to the left side of the lectern, grabs the lectern, and looks out on more than 250,000 people there assembled. I turned to the person standing next to me, whoever that was (I can’t remember). I said, “These people out there… They don’t know it, but they’re about ready to go to church.”
Skip: When he heard that, he completely shifted and read the crowd and started to use “I have a dream,” and that shift was because he did not stick to his script. Lastly, one big mistake we can all make is using lingo…abbreviations, shortcuts, buzzwords, technical terms…that a small group understands, and then we assume everyone understands it. Using lingo on the outside world that’s meant for an inside crowd is a huge mistake.
I think it’s really important as leaders are communicating and sharing their vision to communicate in a way that says, “I understand my audience. I empathize with my audience. I listen first to the audience, and then and only then will I seek to share and communicate my value,” not “I’m just going to bring it all out there and ramrod it through without paying any attention.” These are critical communication leadership mistakes.
Megan: Okay, let’s get to our final step in communicating vision.
Michael: The fourth step is to make it visible. For any statement of vision to be effective people have to know about it. You can’t go off somewhere to the mountain, cook up a vision, and then stick it in a drawer and never look at it again or just keep it to yourself. It has to be expressed, and it has to be expressed frequently. Weren’t you just reading something about that in that new book The CEO Next Door?
Megan: Yes. By the way, I love this book. We got an advanced reader’s copy, and it’s based on an article from Harvard Business Review on the four traits of successful leaders. Anyway, one of the things it talks about is communication and how it’s necessary to communicate something like eight times in numerous different ways, different mediums, to actually be effective and to get your message across.
If you were to ask me that question, “How many times do you think it takes?” I would have probably said, “Well, maybe three or four,” but eight is a lot. Eight feels like you’re kind of beating a dead horse, but the point is it takes way more communication than you think to communicate your vision, and, in fact, you cannot over-communicate.
Michael: You can’t. I remember during the recession it was brutal, and I was trying to communicate the vision of the company over and over again so the people could be connected to a larger sense of why.
Megan: Not be so discouraged.
Michael: Yeah, so we wouldn’t lose our way by losing our why. I remember I got so sick of it I said to an executive coach, “I am tired of talking about the vision. Everybody has heard this, right?” She said, “You know what? When you’re sick and tired of it you’re about half done.”
Michael: You think you’ve communicated it because you’re hearing yourself say it over and over, but people can’t hear it too much. As a leader, you have to repeat the vision over and over again.
Megan: Absolutely. On our side of things, our business has grown so rapidly over the last few years this is something we think about a lot. In fact, in the last year we doubled our staff. That’s a lot of new people who have not been immersed in our culture and in our vision. In a couple of weeks we’re actually heading off to a team retreat, and one of the main focuses of that retreat is to communicate our vision to the team.
We’re going to talk about things like our core ideology, our core values, and those kinds of things, which the rest of our team has already heard, although I think they’re going to be excited to hear it again. Some of our team members won’t have heard it, and we’re going to keep talking about that over and over and over again.
Michael: Think about this. A year ago, half the people we had on staff heard me do that presentation on core ideology. That means half the people who will be there in two weeks have not heard it. The other half who did hear it have forgotten it, so we have to repeat it again.
Megan: We’re instituting all kinds of other opportunities for communication in different forms as well for this very reason, because you just can’t over-communicate.
Michael: We have to come back to something, like we so often do on Lead to Win, and that is our own behavior as leaders. This is the most important place the vision has to be made manifest: in our own behavior. There’s a sense in which we have to embody that future we’re trying to create. In other words, if the team sees you model the vision, it’ll stick.
If they see it used as a yardstick in budget meetings, they’ll live by it. If they realize it’s more than a marketing tagline, they’ll take it seriously. But if they sense that the vision statement means nothing to the leader…it’s just something you put in a notebook and file away or hang on the wall of the lobby…it’s never going to affect the team’s passion and productivity. As leaders, we have to set the pace. We have to drink the Kool-Aid.
Megan: We have to be the vision. That reminds me of what the renowned philosopher and philanthropist Albert Schweitzer said about what it takes to influence others. He said, “Example is not the main thing…it is the only thing.”
Michael: Oh, don’t you love that?
Megan: And…mic drop.
Michael: Exactly. It always starts with us. It comes right back to us. We began Lead to Win with three episodes on self-awareness, and it seems like in every episode we come back to that, because that is the most foundational thing as a leader. If we’re not visionary… Nobody on our team can come up with the vision for the organization. By the way, this is a funny thing. I worked in an organization one time where the leader couldn’t come up with a vision, so he attempted to delegate it.
Megan: That’s the one thing you cannot delegate.
Michael: You cannot delegate it. He put together a committee that he was not even part of. I was part of that committee, and we were trying to cook up a vision for the organization. This guy basically had no vision other than to make money. That won’t work.
Megan: The buck stops with us at the end of the day. All right. Today we’ve covered the four basic steps in driving vision deep into your organization: make it inspiring, make it concrete, make it practical, and make it visible. Otherwise…Vikings.
Megan: Any final thoughts today, Dad?
Michael: This work is so important, and it’s not going to happen in the busyness of corporate or organizational life. You have to be able to pull away and give yourself time to really think, really imagine, and to really create the future. It begins in your thinking first, then it is expressed through your words, and then it has to be shared.
It needs to be a priority for us, if we don’t have time on the calendar this year, to get away for a day or two and just think about where we want to be in three years. Again, not in all the details. We’re not talking about a strategic plan, but in terms of vision. What do you see that you want to have the help of your team in creating?
Michael: Thanks again for joining us on Lead to Win. If you like the show, don’t keep it a secret. Please tell your friends and colleagues about it, and also please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts.
Megan: This program is copyrighted by Michael Hyatt & Company. All rights reserved. Our producer is Nick Jaworski.
Michael: Our writers are Joel Miller, Mandi Rivieccio, Jeremy Lott, and Lawrence Wilson.
Megan: Our recording engineer is Mike Boyer.
Michael: Our production assistant is Aleshia Curry.
Megan: And our intern is Winston.
Michael: We invite you to join us for our next episode, Until then, lead to win.