Last week, I wrote about Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk and book, “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” and specifically the challenge some nonprofits and NGOs face when balancing the need to properly define the problem and starting with WHY. However, the key focus of Sinek’s book was not organizations, but rather the leaders who shape the WHY.
In the Afterword of his book, Sinek states that, “All leaders must have two things: they must have a vision of the world that does not exist and they must have the ability to communicate it,”(227).
The first thing a leader needs is to have a vision of the world that does not yet exist. This is the WHY. There is a challenge that needs to be addressed—something that is not right, something that is missing, something that could be better. Think about the leaders that the world admires: Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Abraham Lincoln. Each had a vision of a world where things were better, where things were freer, where things were more equal and just. This is the WHY—the vision and mission that connects with people to the point where they are not only willing, but eager to be part of the work.
But what about this second piece: the ability to communicate the vision. Why is having the vision not enough to be an effective leader? The answer is that one person is often not enough to take that vision to the next stage. It takes other people—be they employees, customers, students, partners, donors, or constituents—to make a vision real. And a vision needs a voice to become more than one person’s idea. The charge of leadership is to inspire those people who matter most to making that vision become a reality to take up the cause as their own.
This means that there is a premium on communication skills for those in positions of leadership. Leaders are often judged not merely for their actions, but for the way they communicate about those actions to their stakeholders. And communication skills do not always come as naturally as the vision does.
Fred Astaire, the renowned ballroom dancing legend, once said, “Some people seem to think that good dancers are born. All of the good dancers I’ve known have been taught or trained.” I am a dancer, and I know this statement is true. But I have also found that this principle applies to communication: Some people seem to think that good communicators are born. All of the good communicators I’ve known have been taught or trained.
Leaders cannot merely have the vision. They must also have the ability to communicate that vision. And those in positions of leadership need to do the work to develop the ability to communicate their vision if they want to inspire people to action and bring that vision to life.