How’s your vision casting lately?

I noticed something recently that surprised and disappointed me: Without realizing it, a few months ago, I stopped casting vision for my team.

Which is really strange, because I’m a visionary, that’s what I do. And I’ve been leading with vision for decades.

But after one more meeting where my (amazing) team was in the weeds slugging out logistics for a new initiative we’re launching, it hit me: I haven’t cast vision for this initiative for months. As a result, we were bogged down in pedantic details that almost everyone finds frustrating.

I stopped the meeting, cast some vision, and then both personally with individual team members and later with our entire team, I apologized to them for not leading with a clear (and inspiring) vision.

Then I leaned back and asked myself “What the heck just happened? How did vision slip and I didn’t even notice it?”

Then I looked around and realized, I haven’t seen a ton of other leaders casting a lot of vision either. 

Having never led through a global pandemic/series of gigantic crises before, my conclusion is that crisis kills vision. Unless you decide it won’t.

In this post, I’ll explain how that happens and how to get it back.

When Crisis Hits, Vision Dies and Survival and Adaptation Kick In

When crisis hits, almost every leader instinctively moves into survival mode. That’s natural and to a large extent, exactly what needs to happen.

When you have no idea what’s going to happen, you need to make sure you survive.

Part of survival is adaptation. You need to adapt to the new reality, and so you move from:

  • In-person services to online
  • Dine-in to take out
  • Pick up to delivery
  • In-person workouts to online sessions
  • Working in the office to working from home

If you’re reading this and still in leadership, you’ve done all that. It’s exhausting, but you made it. Congrats.

As the world opens up again, you adapt back, trying to figure out what the new reality will be and adapting to it.

Of course, that’s not the end of the road.

If you’re curious, I wrote more about the 5 kinds of leaders crisis produces here.

Whatever Happened to Innovation?

The stage after adaptation should be innovation. Innovation asks the question: What does this make possible?

And that’s what often starts to sputter at this stage of a crisis. A year in, you’ve made it. Maybe you’re even profitable or growing again, you’re adapting to whatever is next, so the incentive to change is lower.

Any success, by nature, makes you conservative. You risk less. It’s ‘working’, goes the logic, so why innovate?

Even in normal times, the more successful you are, the less willing you are to engage in the kind of risk that brings about breakthroughs.

And as a result, vision dies.

You’ve survived. You’ve adapted. You’re tweaking. But vision…is gone.

5 Things That Aren’t Vision (And 5 Things That Are)

People tend to notice the presence of vision but not the absence of it.

As a result, you could lead well for years, build your organization on vision, then hit cruise control and it might takes months, or in some cases, years for anyone to notice, including you.

To make things clearer, here are 5 things that’s aren’t vision and how to get your vision back.

1. Bringing People Back

Right now, almost every leader I talk to is obsessing over bringing people back. Church leaders worry about the 20-30% that have disappeared, or getting back to where they were in 2019.

Business leaders are often worried about customer retention and loyalty.

Bringing people back isn’t vision. Moving people forward is.

Leaders who focus on moving people forward will have a much better future.

2. Maintenance 

Depending on what you do (think in-person retail), the crisis may still have you scrambling to stay alive.

Scrambling is one thing, but in the long run, keeping the lights on the bank accounts in the black isn’t vision.

Maintenance isn’t vision. Your mission is vision.

Instead, start refocusing now on why you do what you do. Imagine you were starting over (which you kind of are). What’s your rallying cry? What’s the fire that burns in your belly?

Focus on that. Then tell everyone what it is and don’t stop.

3. Adaptation 

Adaptation isn’t vision either.

If you’ve adapted, awesome.

But the real questions are: What’s next? What’s new? What will 10x or 100x our potential?

What can we do now that will bring us disproportionate results?

In the long run, settling for adaptation will kill your innovation.

4. What and How 

In any meeting, there are really three questions that leaders continually deal with: what, how and why.

The best of these is why, and why is the first thing to die in a visionless organization.

That’s where I found myself in that recent meeting. I let us get bogged down in the what and how of our new initiative, which as a sole diet, is both demotivating and at times, exhausting.

If you’re swinging for the fences (which we are on this new initiative), what and how can be hard.

That’s where why comes in.

Why invigorates. Why motivates. It inspires.

Ask yourself: what’s your internal and external communication focused on? If it’s what and how, you’ve lost your vision, and perhaps your way.

Focusing on why motivates people to make a way when there is no way.

Now let’s take what and why one step further…

5. What You Want People To Do 

Finally, what you want people to do isn’t vision either.

Like you, I’ve heard an endless sea of retailers urge us to shop local (which I have). I’ve heard preacher after preacher say things like “Watch this” or “Don’t miss this.” Yep, I’m down for that too. And I’ve heard so many online retailers tell me to buy now. Occasionally, I do.

But the real question when it comes to vision isn’t what you want people to do.

The real task of the visionary is to focus on why it matters at all.

For a variety of reasons, it’s difficult to imagine what the world will be like in five years, or even two. Which is why why matters more now than ever.

People don’t need you to tell them what to do nearly as much as they need you to tell them why it matters.

So how do you cast vision when you can’t see ahead?

Well, imagine that Disney was vision casting for your organization.

If Disney created anything for you like this 2019 30-second commercial about a dad whose daughter is going to college, you’d have no problem inspiring people to do something without ever telling them to ‘get in here’ or ‘come back’ or ‘don’t miss this’.  (Parents, grab a tissue. You’ve been warned.)

Do you see how beautifully Disney crafted the whyWhy it matters reminds you of what matters. Why shows you what’s at stake, and what you miss if you don’t get in on it.

Because of all the uncertainty crisis brings,  you may not know exactly what your organization will be doing in a year or two, but as a visionary, you do know why you’ll be doing it.

What’s underneath your what? Why does it matter? What value does it add to the people you’re serving?

Focus on that. Remind people of why you do what you do, and you’ll likely have a long future doing it.

That’s vision.

What’s Happening With Your Vision?

How has the crisis been on your vision? What’s killing it (if that’s the case) and what’s helping you get it back?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

How the Crisis Probably Killed Your Vision (And How To Get It Back)

9 Comments

  1. basin tap on May 5, 2021 at 1:56 am

    Great article i like your blog

  2. Jo Anne Taylor on April 12, 2021 at 8:56 am

    I came to the church I now serve as a transitional / intentional interim pastor while the church was in pandemic shut down. My main task over these past few months has been to eliminate any word that begins with “re-“ and help them focus forward. Making them ask the “why” questions has been really uncomfortable for some leaders, but we are beginning to see a shift. Thanks for the reminder to go watch that Simon Sinek TED Talk again!

    • Mark on April 12, 2021 at 12:03 pm

      Thank you for the tip on Simon Sinek’s TED talk. I looked it up and wow, that’s awesome. Very helpful. Thanks again.
      Mark Hadley

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 12, 2021 at 1:09 pm

      That’s so great!

  3. Jason Krohn on April 12, 2021 at 8:08 am

    Great post Carey. For our church, and me, I don’t know that’s I’d say we ‘lost the vision’ so much as ‘lost focus on the vision’

    We were fortunate to have a clearly defined vision with values and mission to back that up pre-pandemic. When the pandemic hit the water became murky and like you said we moved to survival.

    What surprised me though is how quickly our church latched back into it afterward. As soon as we did people returned (not all of them) and new people started coming (more than we thought).

    One takeaway that I had was ‘don’t focus on recapturing, focus on capturing’ when I just worried about those that weren’t coming back and their reassigns/excuses I tended to make the waters even more murky for our church.

    I just simply went back to clear, basic, and powerful evangelistic vision casting. We had a brand new wave of people who were visiting and being energized by vision.

    My encouragement to pastors is. Most of them know the changes they’re facing, clear the murky waters around those things. You do that not by talking about them, but instead pointing back to what is clear. The mission. The mission hasn’t changed. (You say that all the time Carey, but I think sometimes it doesn’t sink in) Whatever your specific phraseology is it’s still about introducing people to Jesus. He called himself the cornerstone for a reason.

  4. Juan Carrasco on April 11, 2021 at 10:08 pm

    We have a vision to live by that does not leave us an option to lean onto our own understanding. We have a vision that enslaves us to seek 1st the kingdom of God and His righteousness. A vision that by this irresistible grace should enable us to set our minds on those things which are above.. regardless of our feelings and circumstances.

    Father Gods word does say that apart from Him we can do nothing.. we certainly do not want to be guilty of setting ourselves up to be defined by our reached goals or accomplishments. I’ve always been able to relate to Paul’s heart.. especially His ability to consider all His hard driven research study and education rubbish in comparison to knowing Christ and Him crucified.

    The incredible thing here is that unlike prior to his unregenerate state; he was able to be honest with himself before God! He became aware it was the power of salvation that allowed him to do so and to be transparent apart from being overcome with condemnation. He was not preoccupied with anything other then decreasing in order that he would be a fragrant offering.

    My hope and prayer is that leaders today may have the courage like Paul and simply walk by faith and not by sight, as not to lead others into text book faith. I have definitely found that this only draws them more towards a stronger inability to behave normal. I totally believe that one of the biggest things that irritated the religious in Christ’s day was His favourable ability to behave normal and at the same time be about His Fathers work.

    I believe this is how He does some of His best work by attracting to others to Himself through the vary manifestation of His spirit and fruit through those who are decreasing taking every thought captive against the word of God that walk by faith and not by sight and by following every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. I believe these beautiful feet cause this type of person to who is normal.. to have enough favorability on them to cause them to be peculiar.

    • Carlin Sweet on April 12, 2021 at 6:59 am

      Maybe it’s too early in the morning for me, but I have no clue how this relates to Carey’s article.

      • Juan Carrasco on April 12, 2021 at 6:36 pm

        Thank you sincerely for your response. Your response does well to reveal the depth or underlying point that I was attempting to expose.. that we would probably do well to be cautious as not to become experts in how to micro manage the Holy spirit.
        When at the ground floor, one of the speakers nicely put it.. that it was Jesus that introduced Himself as the cornerstone.

        Its amazing how when it comes to our being used of God to introduce others to Himself.. we do not have to worry that He will finish what only He can authorize.

        I dont think the word professional church founder applys here. Or professional anything for that matter? Profession yes.
        Along the lines of a paid minister of the word of God. But once again Jesus said it best.. that this stone would be a stumbling block to many.

        For me like the cross it brings security fear and trembling.. that even though I cant improve on perfection; it doesn’t negate that I should notice improvement.
        I do believe though that on this side of the cross we frustrate Gods grace and grieve the power of the Holy spirit then we give careful consideration over to.

        So if we are to thankful as to be considered part of the household of God, it might be beneficial to see ourselves more as clay in the potter’s hands.. then spend so much time and effort into perfecting the wheel that the clay is placed on.

        Thank you family members for all your dedication to the faith.

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