“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.”– Oprah Winfrey
Inspiration gives us something to hold onto; it provides us with hope. We could all use that. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that symptoms of anxiety tripled in 2020, and depression symptoms quadrupled among a group of 5,470 adults compared to a survey sample from 2019. Then last year, many of us languished, and this year…well, how are you feeling?
Executives give presentations weekly, if not daily. Every time they get up in front of others, they have an opportunity to make someone’s day better. There are many ways to do this, including setting ground rules for meetings that encourage open communication and listening or being curious enough to learn about an audience before a presentation. In The Empathy Edge, Maria Ross brilliantly shows the power of a culture built around empathy. However, the words a speaker chooses are as important as their actions. Right now, an empathetic choice would be to help people picture a vision they can rally around. But some leaders say painting a motivating vision is simply positive fluff. Is it? The answer is, “It depends.”
Go ahead. Make their day.
A vision is something we see in our mind’s eye. It is about thinking of the future and involves a process known as prospection. It is what we use to plan a vacation or save for our child’s education, and it is unique to humans. When we couple our ability to envision with positive expectations of our ability to accomplish that vision, we are more likely to be motivated to achieve, make good decisions, and feel hopeful about the future. The operative word here is “expectations.” Fantasies are indeed “positive fluff,” and they tend to decrease motivation even though they are part of prospection. However, expectations or probabilities increase our ability to achieve. What this means to a leader is that when we can paint a picture of what we see as possible and couple our vision with what will make it likely for the organization to accomplish those goals, we give people the expectation that they can do it. That is a tremendous gift in times like these.
How to convey a vision that motivates and inspires better decisions
- Use vivid descriptions of the future state. Help people see it in their imaginations and see themselves as part of it. Use words like “Imagine yourself three years from now when…”
- Use emotional words that bring feelings and meaning into the vision.
- Be honest and clear about the work involved to get there.
- Tell them what makes it possible to make the vision a reality- examples are the plan’s strengths, the process, the people, the opportunities related to timing, and financial support.
- Paint a picture of the greater purpose behind the vision – what it will do for others.
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