When it comes to communication that is critical to the future, it’s easy to let the negatives we know (and probably understand very well) completely determine the framework of important messages.
Case in point — when talking to my teenage daughter about dating, it’s difficult for me not to speak completely out of personal experience, framing the message in the context of the “devil” I know – ”I know exactly what boys have on their minds because I was one!” Few would dispute that my perspective is rooted in fact; there is no shortage of data points to support the message. But the problem (apart from the fact that my target audience has no interest in hearing this message) is that this one-dimensional message does little to help my daughter develop a perspective that helps her move into the future.
But enough painful confession. What does this have to do with our communication as leaders? Simply this: without exception, when communication is couched and “toned” only by data points of the past — or for that matter, the present — it will lack dimension, skew perspective, and seed a faulty response.
Absent a perspective that allows for (and prompts) vision, communication is either a recitation of history or an account of current conditions. If that data is less than stellar (consider how we communicate with our organizations in the context of recession), the chances are great that the devils we know have far too much influence on the message — even when the message is future-looking.
Consider this: had the framework for Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or poetic Second Inaugural been couched in the reality of the moment, his speeches would simply have decried the nation’s condition, and mourned those yet to die. Instead, Lincoln used the past only to raise the specter of a new vision.
Had Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed the throng speaking only out of experience, the “I have a dream” refrain would never have passed his lips.
And in the wake of the USSR having won the race to orbit the earth, JFK dared to stir the US with an unthinkable vision — to put a man on the moon.
Take a look at what these examples have in common.
- They do not gloss over or ignore the realities of the past;
- They broaden perspective;
- They speak of possibilities for the future;
- They call for participation.
Put another way — what Lincoln, King and Kennedy did was seed a vision. Some might suggest that known data points and vision represent opposite perspectives — that the former is grounded in fact and the later is right-side-of-the-brain creativity at its best . . . spin at worst. Yet, modern history’s pivotal moments are often marked by the communication of a leader who, unprepared for the past to define the future, was able to articulate a new view of the horizon.
Pivotal moments — whether in commerce, social enterprise or political endeavors – come when leaders understand that most of us are anxious to be done with the devils we have known. We simply need someone to help us with the vision of what might be.
As we work on marketing plans, budgets and staff assignments for 2010, we’ll do well to temper what we know about the last year (and projections regarding coming months), and mix in the stuff of vision, dreams and audacious goals.