The Two Most Misunderstood Words in Leadership

by Andy Wood on October 7, 2013

in Exploring the Possibilities, Five LV Laws, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Increase

Vision NeedIt was painful and ugly, Lisa told us.  She had left town to attend a school, presumably to train people to be worship leaders.  What she discovered instead was an unhealthy, “I’m always right” form of egotistical authority-wielding.  If anybody in the so-called “school” suggested an idea that didn’t line up perfectly with the ego-polishing done “on the stage,” there was hell to pay.  And the favorite punch(ing) line: “You need to buy into the vision.”

“We’ve been spending some time rethinking our organization’s vision,” John said.

“Why is that?”

“Because we need a better way of communicating to the public and to our people the essence of why we’re here.”

May I offer a polite suggestion? (If not, I’ll be happy to offer a rude one.)

Before you start planning or pontificating on what you, somebody else, or the organization “needs,” don’t you think it would be a good idea to have a clear definition of “need?”

And before you merge onto the leadership freeway, teeming with thousands of commuters headed, they say, in the direction of their “vision,” don’t you think you need to have a grasp on what a vision actually is?

But I Know What Those Words Mean!

And therein lies the problem.

I’m not accusing you of being ignorant.  But “vision” and “need” are two words that are so randomly tossed around, they’ve lost their meaning.  “Vision” is often code for a meaningless, attractive buzzword or an appealing but vague description of where somebody thinks they’re headed.

Meanwhile, “need” is an English word we can use in the same conversation to describe starving people in Africa and our travel detours (“I need to stop by the grocery store”).

Let’s suspend your animation for a minute.  Do you mind if we back up and survey your horizon? I don’t know what yours looks like, but I think I can help you get a clearer picture of what your true needs are and where your true vision can take you if we could just get on the same page about what a need and vision are.

It All Starts with the Gap

As I mentioned in more poetic language recently, if you think about it long enough, you have an ideal vision – a dream – of life as it should be.

If you’ve done your homework adequately (a big “if”), you also have a clear understanding of what reality looks like – the good, bad, and ugly.  How do you know if you’ve done your homework adequately?  You can document it with data.  Sometimes the data is what we refer to as “hard data” – facts, figures, statistics. Sometimes the data is “soft data” – opinions, feedback from people near to the situation.

In between “what is” and “what should be” is a gap.  If you can’t see a gap – if you’re like a recent constituent who said, “I can’t see any issues – we’re doing well” – then either you have puny vision or you’re actually more of a manager than a leader.  Nothing wrong with managers, but they have a completely different focus.

That gap between “what is” and “what should be” – expressed in terms of results – is the definition of a need.  Everything else is either a wish or a method.

Let me say it another way:  A “need” is a missing, measurable result somewhere between the way things are today and the way things should be.

Common Misunderstandings

“We need to provide more training.”  Sounds good. But that’s not a need.

“We need to purchase more up-to-date technology.”  For what purpose? My guess is that you intend to use that technology for something else, right? Then technology isn’t the need. It’s a possible tactic or strategy to help address a need.

“There are 239 million undernourished people in Africa, up from 175 million ten years ago.”  That is a need.

“Texas high school graduation rates are at an all-time high, but 12.3% of Texas students drop out.”  That is a need.

“Only 22% of Hispanic voters are registered Republicans.” From a Republican perspective, that is a need.

“Since entering into the Dallas/Fort Worth market, our sales have made us the fourth-largest sporting goods chain in terms of market share in the Texas-Oklahoma region.”  That is a need.

“We need to reinvigorate our church outreach program.”  Not a need.

“Three-forths of the people in our city between the ages of 25-44 don’t attend anybody’s church on a given Sunday. Meanwhile, only 5% of the people in our church engage in any meaningful outreach.”  Those are both needs. The previous statement is a strategy for reaching the need.

Is all this just semantics?

No. The idea is to make sure that what you and your team are doing is actually heading toward meeting real needs. And you can’t know the need until you can address the gap.  If what you call leadership isn’t taking your organization or team headlong into the gap, then you’re leading your organization over a cliff… or into retreat or irrelevance.

And that’s where vision – true vision – comes in.  Vision is the ability to see a way to close the gaps, even if it’s a slow, step-by-step process.  Your “ideal vision” may be a lifelong pursuit, but could you make a dent in it?  How can your 5-year or one-year vision point you and your team into the gap?

That’s where goals, or objectives come in.  These are measurable, short-term victories that help you move in the direction of your vision. As my friend and colleague Kathy Crockett says, “Goals should be the lead measures to get them to the vision.  But because [leaders] make the vision the goal they get discouraged when it doesn’t come to fruition.”

The Phenomenal Power of Alignment

The leaders who take churches, nonprofits, businesses, schools, or any other kind of organization to the realm of exploits have one thing, at least, in common:

They have aligned their activity to their goals…

which are aligned to their vision…

which sees further down the road to an ideal vision…

all in the direction of a gap – a need…

between what is and what should be.

Just in case you’re wondering, “Doesn’t everybody do that?”  The answer is, heavens no.  Many an irrelevant organization continues to answer questions nobody is asking, attack “issues” that are no longer issues, or set goals to achieve something that has no relationship whatsoever to what their true vision is.  All in the name of, “We need to.”  All in the name of “vision.”

Imagine what could happen in your personal life, your team, your organization, even your city if somebody with an acute sense of the possible marshaled their energy and pointed to eliminating just one of those gaps.

That’s a vision you need to catch.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

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Jeff Anselmi January 14, 2015 at 12:11 am

Excellent thoughts.

Jeff Anselmi January 14, 2015 at 12:12 am

Great insights

Jeff Anselmi January 14, 2015 at 12:14 am

Great insights. Too many church leaders see nothing wrong with what is happening in the church since they do not perceive a gap.

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