Are You Laying Bricks or Building a Cathedral?

Many leaders struggle with a constant need to communicate their vision of the future. You may find yourself in the same boat.  Is your vision too bold, is it achievable, will anyone buy into it?

In articulating your story, your vision, remember to respect the past as well as paint a picture of the future.  If something didn’t go well in the past, acknowledge the issue or mistake; don’t hide it in the closet. Also, talk frankly about the present. For example, point out constraints such as regulations and timelines that will challenge the team in fulfilling the vision.  Finally, find a way to be passionate about the future.

During one leadership training session I facilitated, the participants were giving “stump speeches” about their higher purpose. (Stump speeches are short but powerful expressions of a company’s past, present, and future.  Like politicians, leaders should always be ready to deliver their stump speeches.) I still remember one project leader who spoke about his passion for his work. He did pretty much the same work as the other speakers, but people responded the most to his speech.  What set him apart was the passion.

Here’s another example. During a strategic planning session with leaders from a nuclear energy company, the topic turned to vision statements. Their vision was about lowering the kilowatt-hour rate. Would this get you excited? Me neither. I got up and flicked the lights off and on and said, “Your point should be ‘We’re here to provide a safe, reliable source of energy for our grandkids.’”  Whatever your vision of the future, paint a word picture that inspires people.

Here’s an old story that demonstrates this point. A tourist was walking through a city and saw two men doing similar jobs. The tourist asked one man what he was doing. He said, “I’m laying bricks. I’ve been laying one brick on top of another for days and weeks and will keep laying one brick on top of another for days and weeks to come.” The tourist was a bit discouraged but went up to the second man and asked him what he was doing.

“I’m building a cathedral,” said the man. “It’s going to be a grand cathedral.”

Now, both men had been laying bricks for days and weeks and would continue to lay bricks for days and weeks to come. But one was a bricklayer. The other was a cathedral builder.

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