Vision, Leadership and Parenting
Vision. Purpose. Why. Whatever you call it, authors like Andy Stanley and Simon Sinek have written about the importance of vision (we'll just call it that to keep it simple) in leadership. What is vision? I can't remember where I heard it, but the best way to explain the power of vision is in a quick story.
There were two labourers moving heavy bricks from one place to another. Someone came up to the first man and asked, "What are you doing?"
He replied, "I'm moving heavy bricks from here to there". Then, the second man was asked the same question. But his reply was different. He said, "I'm building a castle." Vision is the difference between moving heavy bricks and building a castle.
So yes, vision is important and powerful. But how, HOW, do you create, articulate and communicate vision as a leader? If it's that important, then it shouldn't be an abstract concept, right? It should be a central part of everything we do as leaders, every day.
Recently I was listening to a sermon by Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. In his sermon, he talked about the role of parents. He explained how parents need to instil identity, purpose and destiny in their children. Identity is who they are and where they've come from. Purpose is why they're here on the earth. And destiny is where they're going.
I loved the concept immediately for parenting, but I also think it applies to leaders. Leaders, like parents, are called to instil identity, purpose and destiny in the organisations and people they lead. And I think this three point framework is specifically helpful for understanding how to create, articulate and communicate vision as a leader. Let's walk through it together.
For parents, instilling identity in your children is about telling them who they are and where they've come from. You explain the gospel to them—that they were created by God. That in His grace and mercy, Jesus died for them so they can be saved. Their identity isn't found in their behaviour or performance, they've been recreated in Christ.
Identity is your founding story. It started with being created by God. And then continues with being recreated in Christ. For organisations, identity is also about your founding story. Where did you come from as an organisation? Who started your church, school, ministry or business? Why did they start it? Hidden in the story of the founder/s of your organisation is a key to vision—your identity.
Our Senior Pastor at Gateway Baptist Church, Jason Elsmore, does this really well. We're celebrating our 90th birthday as a church this year (woo!) and we're having an awesome event to celebrate and give a significant gift to see God do more through Gateway in our community, nation and world. What story has Jason used to advertise the event? Gateway's founding story.
90 years ago, a man from Greenslopes Baptist Church in Brisbane realised there were kids who couldn't get to church. So, he decided to start a Sunday School in Holland Park so these kids wouldn't miss out on church. He rode his horse down the streets of Brisbane and found a small building. Starting with nine kids, it quickly grew to 60 kids in a few weeks.
Can you see it? In Gateway's founding story lies our identity. Are you surprised to know some of the key passions of our church include raising the next generation of leaders, seeing whole families redeemed and planting campuses? Can you see that DNA in our founding story?! That's why I believe an organisation's identity—its founding story—is one of the best ways to articulate an organisation's vision.
So, if you don't know your organisation's founding story, find out what it is. Particularly the heart of the story. Not just what happened, but why it happened. Then, find a way to communicate your founding story to your leadership team, employees, volunteers, congregation and your community. And watch as people connect with the identity of your organisation and start seeing things through
the "build a castle" lens rather than the "move heavy bricks" lens.
Purpose and why are really the same thing. For parents, from an early age you want to instil the big story into your children's lives. They're not here by chance. They're not here to work hard, make money or to be successful. No, it's nothing that boring. It's way more significant! The creator of the universe created them and knew from the foundation of the world that they would live now. Right now. For a reason.
And what is that reason? To be part of seeing the Kingdom of Heaven come to earth. To be invited into God's redemption plan for humanity. To be one of His disciples who goes and makes disciples of all nations. That is a much more powerful why than any relationship, job or house could instil on its own. Those things are good servants but terrible masters. They're good servants when they are part of our lives serving the higher purpose we have as children of God.
In the same way, everything in an organisation, EVERYTHING, is just like those relationships, jobs and houses. Excellent servants, but terrible masters. When anything but the purpose of an organisation is used as its foundation, it's uncertain and unstable. There is only one thing that should sit as the foundation for an organisation: its purpose, its why. Everything else should serve that purpose and be built on that foundation.
So, why does your organisation exist? Find out. The simplest place to start, from Patrick Lencioni's book The Advantage, is to facilitate a meeting with your leadership team and to ask the question, "How do we contribute to a better world?" Then, as people suggest ideas, ask, "And why do we do that?" ... "And why do we do that?" Again and again. Until you get to something just short of, "To make the world a better place." It's a fantastic exercise as a starting point. As an example, Clarity's purpose is to fill the world with great organisations that build the Church.
Be prepared though. If you want to really invest in this process, then be prepared for lots of unstructured discussion about your purpose with your leadership team. Be prepared for a couple of years or more of discussion and thinking before you get to a why or purpose that sits really, really clearly. And then, after all that hard work, the idea is that your purpose, your why, won't ever change. Think about that. Everything else around you might change, but that purpose will likely stay the same for years, decades and centuries. Cool, hey?
The last piece of the framework is destiny. For parents, what do you see in your children? Trust your intuition, sure. But also listen to the Holy Spirit. And to add to that, read the Bible and look for the promises of God. Those promises aren't just true for you, they're true for your children. Share those promises over your children because in God's goodness, those promises are part of their destiny.
In the same way, an organisation's vision is incomplete with its identity and purpose. They explain where the organisation came from and why it exists, but they don't clearly articulate where it's going. That's where destiny is so important. Andy Stanley's framework for casting vision in his book Making Vision Stick is incredibly helpful for articulating and communicating destiny. He suggests a simple formula for casting vision: problem, solution, why and why now.
Problem—what problem is your organisation trying to solve? Solution—what is the solution that your organisation flourishing in coming years and decades will provide? Why—why is that important? Ask, "So what?" about your solution. And why now—what is the urgency? Why not wait 50 years for someone else to come along and do this? What's at stake?
Well, there you go. A simple framework that will hopefully equip you to create, articulate and cast vision in your organisation—identity, purpose and destiny. If you have any questions or any stories of challenges or successes with vision, I'd love to hear them. Please drop me a line. And, to finish, here is Clarity's problem, solution, why and why now as an example. Hopefully, it inspires you to go and articulate your own vision so you can inspire others.
Problem—It breaks my heart to see frustrated leaders and disempowered employees and volunteers. And, I find it especially heartbreaking to see Christian organisations unintentionally limiting their people's potential because of organisational challenges.
Solution—Instead of leveraging their people to make the most money, imagine if organisations leveraged their money to make the most of their people? Instead of leveraging their people to make the most of their vision, imagine if organisations even leveraged their vision to make the most of their people? That's my dream.
Why?—Because, when organisations invest in people, leaders thrive and employees and volunteers fulfil their potential. And, as a result, organisations can actually achieve a greater vision and make a difference in more people's lives.
Why now?—So, let's change the way organisations view their people. Let's invest in the next generation today so tomorrow's leaders can fulfil their calling and stand on our shoulders to see their dreams come to pass. Dreams more courageous and outrageous than we've ever dreamed.