Vision Without Storytelling Is Just Another Great Idea

Keywords: vision; leadership; storytelling; change management

Vision is the most powerful instrument of leadership. One [Harvard Business Review article]( says it like this: “The ability to visualize and articulate a possible future state for an organization or company has always been a vital component of successful leadership.” I couldn’t agree more.

Vision will pull you through the most difficult times, and it will propel you toward success faster than anything else. The ability to see something that doesn’t yet exist, articulate it in a compelling way, and enlist others to join you on your journey to make it true is the essence of what it means to be a leader.

But simply stating your vision isn’t enough to make it true. While it’s vitally important that you be clear on where it is you are headed, it will take more to enlist and enroll others along the way. That’s why storytelling is such an important gift to leaders. When you have a compelling vision but don’t use stories to capture its essence, your vision will quickly fall flat.

Stories make vision transferrable.

One mentor I had early on in my leadership journey used to tell me that vision without storytelling is just another great idea. I’ve learned over the years just how right he was. No one is particularly interested in my vision just because it is my vision. Stories help unlock that vision from my head and transfer it to others through heart and emotion.

I meet a lot of leaders who are consumed with their creativity but fail to build emotional connections with the people around them. This type of leader is often perceived by others to be either a dictator or simply aloof. Neither of which is particularly effective at motivating people to create change. On the other hand, leaders who use stories to share and reinforce vision gain the partnership of others and greatly improve their chances of turning their vision into reality.

The human connection is cultivated through the stories we share.

My latest book is coming out next Spring. I’m so excited! It reveals how powerful a vision frame can be in creating change in legacy organizations. If my first book was about the discipline of developing your divine this, my latest book is designed to unlock the power of your divine design. And it’s grounded in seeing the world through a frame or lens by which you can see connections and opportunities you hadn’t previously considered.

I’m convinced that building into the people around you through your vision frame is the most productive activity for a leader. You have to move beyond the perception of single ownership to a sense of shared ownership. If the people around you can see themselves as a co-creator in something that captures their heart, passions, gifts, and abilities, they will invest themselves, their energy, and their creativity in ways that are well beyond what anyone could mandate.

Vision creates opportunity but stories drive people to break through whatever is holding them back.

Here are some practical ideas to help you transfer your vision to others through stories:

1.     You must be committed to your vision. People struggle to follow leaders who always seem to have a “new vision” about something. Be sure before you declare where you want to go that it is, in fact, something you are committed to achieving.

2.     Personally invest in the people closest to you. You need to know what makes them tick and what motivates them. This will help you determine what stories you need to tell.

3.     Tell stories regularly and often. Vision stories don’t have to be elaborate, intricate, or particularly long. They do, however, need to create a shared personal experience with whoever hears the story.

4.     Listen to the stories other people tell about themselves. These are clues that your vision is becoming their vision.

5.     Utilize more than one storytelling medium. I invest in this blog, social media, books, lectures, speeches, etc. My goal is to use any means possible to capture the heart and attention of others.

The good news is you don’t have to change your leadership style to become a great storyteller.

I often hear from other leaders that they don’t feel like they are a gifted storyteller. Some leaders are very introverted. Some leaders aren’t very intuitive. Some leaders don’t like public speaking. I want you to know you can use stories to share your vision and enlist others along the way even if you don’t think you’re good at it. While it may seem like a natural gift that some have, and others don’t, you should know it’s a muscle every leader can develop.

Find ways that are unique to your style to share your vision. I’ve seen some unique things along my journey through leadership. I remember meeting one leader who was a gifted illustrator and cartoonist. He would create a cartoon that included a particular member of his leadership team. He was a master at positioning others as the hero of their story. He would create, print, and frame these cartoons. Each of his team members proudly displayed them in their office. It was a constant reminder they were driving meaningful change and living a life of significance and impact.

Your vision multiplies when you use stories to share it with others. The paradox is this: vision must come from the leader, but it must reside in hearts and minds of those you lead. Stories will connect the two together in a powerful and substantive way. Don’t let your vision die on the vine and fall short of capturing the attention of those you lead.


REFLECT: When you share your vision frame with others, do you use stories? If so, think of a time when this propelled you forward. If not, consider ways you can begin transferring your vision through stories. How has storytelling helped you enlist and enroll others to break through barriers and achieve the unthinkable?