Do you remember playing the game of telephone as a kid? You and your friends whispered a saying one to another, hoping that when it reached the last person it would be the same phrase that was shared by the first kid. But the sentence would always become hopelessly mangled, leaving everyone laughing.
It was hilarious then. Today, it’s sobering to realize how quickly your message as a leader can get lost in translation when it’s shared across your team or through your organization.
Your vision’s meaning can go astray in subtle ways. Meaning derives from the perceptions of the listener and is therefore subjective. When each listener shares your message with others, it may become more and more distorted as it gets mixed up with the misunderstandings of each person along the way.
Unlike the kids’ game of telephone, the more your vision gets muddied the graver the consequences for your organization and for you as its leader.
Getting your vision out with clarity is something every leader grapples with. As you develop a message that all will comprehend, always remember that understanding lies in the ear of the listener.
Add these tools to your skill set to save your vision from getting lost in translation:
Filter It First
Remove all extraneous details from your message. Remember that what you remove is as important as what remains. Evaluate and refine what is left so that it is an unambiguous statement of your intended goal, the work needed to get there, and how you’ll track progress and measure success.
Tear Down the Walls
When you want to inspire others, it’s counter-intuitive to think about the misunderstandings that could block you from the goal. It is hard to admit that success might not be achieved. Yet if you don’t tear down the wall of fear and talk about the challenges and difficult moments ahead, others won’t either. Break the ice to make it easier for everyone to admit when something isn’t working in the future.
Elevate the Intangibles
Focus more on the worthwhile, positive aspects of the process you are about to undertake, rather than on concrete rewards like bonuses or pay. When people have clarity about your expectations and a clear goal like elevating their skills in mind, they are better equipped to be resilient and to keep the essence of your vision as their focus. Persuade them to buy in to the big-picture benefits for the organization, your customers, and society.
Frame It for All
Ultimately, it is your obligation to discover the subjectivity of your audience. Pinpoint everything they need to know about your vision so that they can to act on it.
It isn’t easy to make your vision less subjective. In the end, though, doing so means that those who hear and understand your concept will know when something isn’t aligning with it and will quickly move to fix it.