If you really want to make sure you are leading your organization in the right direction, spend as much time defining your destination as you do packing for the trip. We are too quick at thinking we know where we need to go. Yet, if you were to stop and ask everyone in the room what their picture of the destination looks like, you would find that none—that’s right, none—of their pictures will be the same. Some may be similar, but many will be in strong contrast. Why? Because we are all using different backgrounds, knowledge and experience to create our picture. And unless you can figure out a way to open up someone’s head and look inside, you will never know what that picture looks like until you ask.
Stop and Think
The things required to do this first step are not things we do well or often. For example, you need to stop and think. Shut down the conversation, close the filters, and think. Think what it would look like if every dream you ever had for your organization or team came true. What would it look like? What would other people be saying? What did you accomplish? What part did you play?
Write It Down
Now, after you have had time to think and imagine, write it down. Make it a story with all of the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and colors included. Make your story as much like the real thing as possible. Only then will other people be able to join you in your story and see and feel what you see and feel. Don’t make it a summary, or collection of ideas, but a real story. Tell us what time of day it is, what season, what place? When you dream and share in this way others will start to understand where you want to go with the organization and team.
Tell Your Stories
Stop, learn and practice thinking about the future in a positive way. Stop, learn and practice telling your stories. This is the nest step in getting everyone heading in the same direction.
How do you consolidate a dozen dreams into one? How do you get clarity around direction? As you set out to leader your organization or team it’s easy to just set the direction yourself and hope (or force) others to follow. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone played a part in designing that future? Difficult or not, we can all see numerous advantages to everyone in the organization having a part in the creation of a shared vision or dream.
“But wait,” you say, “isn’t that impossible. Isn’t it impossible to get any group of people to agree completely on anything, let alone something as unique as the future of your organization?” Well, there may be a solution. Last week I talked about having everyone on your team think about and the tell their story of what your organization would look like if they did the right things, in the right place, for the right people, for the right reasons, at the right time. That is a great start. But how do you join these dreams into one? There just might be a way.
Identify the Important
After everyone has thought about and shared their stories, have them make a list of the most important, most compelling elements of their dream. Let each person work alone. Give them plenty of time to create their lists.
Once all have completed their individual lists, go around the room and have each of them share the first thing on their list. Start creating that new list on a chalk board, white board, flip chart or screen, and continue until everyone has identified the first thing on their list. If two people offer the same idea, ask them to decide if they meant the same thing, and then, if they agree, write the idea down only once. If they disagree, have them clarify what they meant and then record both ideas. Your job is to collect. Do not evaluate or judge. Once all have had a chance to offer their first ideas, go back around the room collecting their second, third, and fourth ideas, continuing until you have exhausted the ideas on all of the individual lists. What you will discover is now you have one list, created equally by everyone in the room. It won’t belong to any one member, but to all of the members. They will have all had a part in its creation. You will even find people who don’t really like each other, coming up with and agreeing on some of the same ideas.
Develop Major Themes
With that team list now before the group, look for ways to consolidate their ideas into a manageable whole. I like to have them look for themes. Do any of these ideas have something in common that would allow us to group them together as we get ready to create our shared dream?
Shared With the major themes identified and the elements of their dreams all captured and sorted, you can now start to create that shared dream.
Bring It Together
It is not hard to understand that our most important tasks as a leader are (1) to provide direction and (2) to provide protection for our organization, our members, our customers, and our investors. It really is that simple. And one way to start down the path of providing direction is to give everyone an opportunity to play a part in the creation of an organizational dream. But how do you get all of those ideas together? How do you get the personal, motivating visions of a team into a single, clearly defined goal—a goal that makes sense to all?
We started down this road by recognizing that everyone has a dream, and it is our dream, not that of another, that motivates us to move in a certain direction. The leader helps facilitate this process of sharing and combining these dreams by giving others a voice, by asking them to dream and then helping them share that dream in a safe way through the use of a story.
Stories are shared, and then each individual is allowed to identify the most important elements in their dream. These essentials, as viewed by the story teller, are collected into a group list and then sorted into themes. These themes are created by the participants. What do they see as the main ideas or topics that capture the elements identified by the whole?
Moving each of the critical elements of the various dreams into common themes provides you as a leader a way to now build a common dream. If a lot of people are involved, place each of the themes on a separate table or chart, and have the individual select for themselves the theme they would like to work with and clarify for the final dream. Everyone tells their own story. Everyone plays an equal part in identifying the critical elements of their shared dreams. Everyone has a part in building the themes. Everyone chooses which of those elements is most important to them. And finally, everyone brings their part of the common story back to the group for a final writing of the organization’s dream.