You have a dream. In your mind’s eye, you can see a better future. You are convinced that achieving that vision will make all the difference in the world. You firmly believe the reward will far outweigh the pain. Now all you must do is convince others to join you in creating that better future.
Easier said than done. No matter what the change, the initial reaction of most people is, “No.” Very few people ever hear of a suggested change and immediately say, “Sounds good to me. Let’s do it!” There are a few who say, “No,” and can never be convinced otherwise. Most say “No,” initially out of skepticism, but can be convinced to pursue the new and different future. So, how do you convince them? How do you turn skeptics into willing pursuers of the dream? Here’s how.
Paint the Picture
No matter how clearly you can see that better future, don’t assume they can see it at all. Your beautiful picture is nothing more than a blank canvas to them. Paint the picture for them. Help them dream your dream by describing it in winsome language. Talk about it in ways that make them want to be there. Lee Iacocca, the “father of the Ford Mustang,” pointed out “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.”
Doing that requires your knowing the people you are seeking to lead. What appeals to them? What do they value? What aspects of your vision connect with their values? Until you can describe your dream in ways that reflect their values and is appealing to them, they are not joining you in your quest for that future, no matter how much better than the present.
Create a Path
Dreaming the dream is the easy part. Charting the course to achieve the dream demands far more. This is the primary factor at work in those who reject the value of vision. In their experience, and maybe yours, they have seen leaders announce a grand new vision with great fanfare and zeal. The trumpet plays “Charge,” and the leader heads out but the pathway is not clear. When finally taking the time to look back, the leader often discovers most did not follow and that many who did, at first, have dropped out and returned to the status quo. Most are not willing to wander in the wilderness before arriving in the Promised Land of the new vision.
The fact is simply this. If you cannot chart the course and point people to a sensible pathway, they will not join you in pursuing the dream. If people start down the path to your preferred future with you, they will not stay with you if they believe the path is not leading them forward. The issue is seldom the level of difficulty on the journey. If they believe in the vision and see a pathway, most will keep pursuing the vision no matter how hard the path.
Address the “Why”
Take the time to tell people why. Why must we change? Why is this change the best one? Why now? Why expend the energy and absorb the pain? Tell them the “Why.” Tell them early and tell them often.
Often, it’s the “Why” that provides the color and the detail when you’re painting the picture. Often, it’s the “Why” that transforms a “ho-hum” into a “count me in!” Often, it’s the “Why” that gives them grit and determination when the path becomes difficult.
Anticipate the Concerns
Far too few leaders take the time to anticipate the concerns of the people they lead. No wonder they are surprised when issues are raised. No wonder they often fail to convince when answering off the top of their heads. Most surprises can be eliminated by proactively taking the time in the planning stage to anticipate the concerns and objections different constituents and constituent groups might have.
If you take the time to anticipate the potential concerns and objections, you’ll have time to prepare more thoughtful and more convincing responses. In addition, as you think through the potential concerns and objections, two unanticipated benefits are often realized. First, you might discover ways of making the Vision more clear and compelling. Second, you might recognize ways of improving the pathway.
A well-done FAQ Sheet contributes mightily in turning skeptics into willing and even excited pursuers of your preferred future.
There’s a classic, old story about a wife who asked her husband, “Do you still love me?” He responded, “Look, I told you I loved you 45 years ago when we got married. If I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know.” Unfortunately, there are leaders like that. “I said it once, don’t they remember?” “I announced it in January, it’s only July, they should remember.” The key to effective communication is this: communicate, communicate, communicate.
Use print, email, social media, blogs, websites, scrolling announcement slides. Use them all and use them over and over. Paint the picture, again and again. Explain the why, again and again. Describe the pathway, again and again.
Above all, communicate personally. Talk with key leaders and influencers. Meet with groups of people, painting the picture, explaining the “Why,” clarifying the pathway, responding to their concerns, misunderstandings and objections.
If you are to move skeptics into the ranks of the willing pursuers of your new, God-big dream, you must encourage feedback. Then take the feedback seriously, processing it honestly, thoughtfully and carefully.
Give people numerous ways to express their thoughts and concerns. Message boards, emails, texts and small meetings are just some of the mechanisms you can employ. A word of caution, don’t overuse the “distant,” and impersonal communication avenues. And a word of encouragement, you can’t overuse making yourself personally available for break room chats, walking the hallways, meeting up at your local coffee shop, phone conversations, Zoom or Skype sessions, etc.
If the feedback is negative or suggesting an alternative action or course, and you choose to continue as originally planned and announced, it is essential for you to follow up with those who gave you the feedback. Assure them that you heard them. Make it clear that you gave careful consideration to their input. Try to help them understand why you “stayed the course” instead of adjusting as they advised. Even if they still disagree with you, most appreciate the respect you have shown them and their ideas, and few will choose to oppose the new vision.
Provide Status Updates
Often, in the church assessments we do, we hear a common complaint. People will cite numerous instances where a great idea, a wonderful new vision is presented. For a time, it’s promoted. People become supportive and even excited. But the complaint is that the idea, the initiative, the new vision has disappeared. Nothing is said about it. People have no idea what happened to it.
Just as encouraging feedback is an aspect of communication, so is providing status updates. It’s not just about repeatedly painting the picture, pointing out the pathway and explaining the “Why.” Leaders must also communicate progress toward the new vision.
Communicate about the milestones that have been achieved. What are the unexpected events along the way. Have you encountered unintended consequences? Where has God broken through in either hoped for or unanticipated blessings. How close are we to achieving the dream? How can we pray? How can we become involved?
In the achieving of any innovation, there are always the “late adopters.” Providing status updates often creates the “on-ramps” that make it possible for your late adopters to join the ranks of the willing pursuers.
When the dream has become a reality or the vision has been accomplished, remember to celebrate. I must confess, I don’t understand why organizations – especially churches, denominational entities and Christian ministries fail to celebrate their achievements. It might be a fear of pride which can be a good thing. But when God does a mighty work and we just go on to the next thing, without celebrating, that is presuming upon God and dishonoring Him.
If God was the source of the leader’s dream in the first place, if the vision was a God-big vision that required His blessing and power to achieve, then honoring Him by celebrating the achievement seems to be wholly appropriate and God-honoring, not prideful.
So, here’s to big-time parties in your future!