Good leaders are ceiling busters! Vision is about possibility, and not probability. Probability involves merely the maintenance of the status quo. Leadership is about going somewhere else. Probabilities will likely happen if the present merely continues into the future, whereas possibilities need not be. But to a visionary leader, who imagines beyond the limitations and constraints that intimidate the hearts and minds of most, anything is possible!
All new ventures begin with possibility thinking; and the clarity and force of this vision will sustain the leader through the rejection, failure and disappointment that inevitably accompany any truly new initiative. A leader’s God-breathed vision acts as an organization’s magnetic north. It attracts human energy. It invites and draws others to participate sacrificially in the divine mission. The leader’s vision is what focuses the energy of the organization. Leaders see the possibilities of the future and then they share this vision with those they lead.
Visions are conceptualizations, but they become real as leaders express them in concrete terms. Just as architects make drawings and engineers build models, leaders find ways of expressing their hopes for the future. Then the vision becomes like a lens that focuses unrefracted rays of light. The clearer the vision, the more compelling it is to all who follow. No matter how much involvement other people have in shaping the vision, the leader must be able to articulate it clearly. He must keep the vision focused. To help them in internally clarifying, and then externally expressing their vision, leaders should:
- Determine the will of God. God has very specific purposes for our lives and ministries. What are they? Unless our vision is based in the will and purpose of God, it will come to nothing. “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). His vision must become our vision.
- Think about the past. Reflecting on our past enhances our ability to be forward thinking. As we contemplate the events of our lives – both the mountains and the valleys – we can identify our strengths and weaknesses, and the paradigms, patterns and themes that have carried us to the present, and which form the foundation on which our futures will be built.
- Test assumptions. Our assumptions often blind us to new solutions and opportunities. We should ask God to help us “think outside the box.”
Consider the difference between “vertical” and “lateral” or “horizontal” thinking. Vertical thinking begins with a single concept and then proceeds with that concept until a solution is reached. Horizontal thinking refers to thinking that generates alternative ways of seeing a problem before seeking a solution. Vertical and horizontal thinking are like two different ways of digging holes. Logic is the tool that is used to dig holes deeper and bigger, to make them altogether better holes. But if the hole is in the wrong place, then no amount of improvement is going to put it in the right place. No matter how obvious this may seem to every digger, it is still easier to go on digging in the same place than to start all over again in a new place.
In short, vertical thinking is digging the same hole deeper; horizontal thinking is trying again elsewhere. Certainly there appear to be some advantages in digging in the same hole since a half-dug hole offers a clear direction in which to expend effort. In addition, no one is paid to sit around being capable of achievement. As there is no way of assessing such capability it is necessary to pay and promote according to visible achievements. Far better to dig the wrong hole (even one that is recognized as being wrong) to an impressive depth than to sit around wondering where to start digging. However, many holes are being dug to an impractical depth, many in the wrong place, and breakthroughs usually result from someone abandoning a partly-dug hole and beginning anew in a different place.
- Follow the inward leading of the Holy Spirit. Visions in their early stages can be somewhat vague and ill-defined. It may take time to shape a new vision to the point of lucid articulation. So, instead of struggling with words on paper, we should do something to act on our inward leading or intuition. Visions, like objects in the distance, become clearer as we move toward them.
- Write a short vision statement. A compelling vision must be shared in a few words. Vision statements should capture the essential purpose and nature of the new initiative. Moreover, the vision statement must be clear and passionate. The clearer and more passionate the vision, the greater the fire it will ignite, and the easier it will be to develop the strategy to achieve it.
The vision will provide a “strategic umbrella” in the sense that it will describe a clear strategic direction in overarching terms for the organization. The general nature of the overarching goals of the vision will allow for more specific, tactical goals to be formulated as opportunities arise and barriers appear. The vision will provide broad action guidelines.
A well-articulated vision provides the people at all levels in the organization with a simple memory tool to align their values, actions, and decisions with the organization’s strategic objectives. Its simplicity also promotes clarity of focus. Through minimization of the number of goals, organizational resources are more likely to be focused.
- Live in the future. The Holy Spirit is Lord of the future as well as of the past and present. We should ask Him what the future holds for our churches and ministries. Whose view of the future is dominating our lives, our organizations and our strategies? Is it God’s?
Good leaders punch through the ceilings. They don’t let a ceiling be an obstruction; they make it a target!