Nonprofit Network Blog

Visionary Thinking in 30 Minutes

Thursday, September 22, 2016 11:01 AM | Tom Williams (Administrator)


Tom Williams

Capacity Building Consultant

Tom@nonprofnetwork.org




Visionaries. Do you reserve that descriptor only for people in the history books or in that last great TED talk? If we only assign that title to people who did fantastic things like invent democracy or land people on the moon, it leaves the rest of us admiringtheir genius and yearning to be one instead of stepping up to fill the job at hand. Your organization needs visionaries


I’d like to make the case, that “visionary” isn’t a unique lofty attribute of a small group of people that caused society to make BIG changes. Rather, it’s actually a job description that needs to be filled on a daily basis at each mission-based organization in our community.


Make a listI’m sure you have a list of folks you consider to be visionaries. Go ahead and write them down. After you get to the point where you are struggling to add to the list I have one more to add: your name. Quit blushing or thinking I’m trying to compliment you. Just write it down.


In addition to that solid list, your organization already has a group of people who convene on a regular basis that are expected to project into the future and imagine the possibilities: your board of directors. In fact, a primary role of a board member is to imagine the future of the organization, seek commonality, and project the best path forward to reach that vision.


Research tells us that exemplary leaders consistently exhibit five practices that contribute to their success. One of those practices is inspiring a shared vision. Go back to your list. These people didn’t just sit on their view of how things could be. They made at least two commitments to support this successful practice. One was envisioning the future by imaging exciting and ennobling possibilities. The second was enlisting others in this common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.


Yes, I know your board meetings are filled with day to day program reports and budget line items. Who has the time to think about the future possibilities when the here-and-now is in front of us yelling loudly? You do. The future of your organization depends upon it. As a leader of your organization, you are expected to carve out the room for this discussion. Those who do not are doomed to stay in the tyranny of the moment and settle for mediocrity.


Don’t fret if this feels awkward. Becoming a visionary for most people isn’t a nature skill. However, it can be learned and—like a muscle—can be improved through exercise. 


Here’s an exercise I suggest you try to becoming more visionary:


Set aside 30 minutes with writing equipment and write down your personal response to this question: 


If time, number of volunteers and dollars was UNLIMITED, what SPECIFIC accomplishments could we make to fulfill our mission and be viewed as the envy of all nonprofit organizations within 100 miles? 


Deliberately use your entire 30 minutes and make the list of accomplishments as specific as possible. Be deliberate.


Here’s where your leadership skills are exhibited. Flex that visionary muscle again by sitting with two trusted colleagues (fellow board members? other staff?) and present the entire list verbally, asking for their candid opinions. Listen to the feedback. Edit, enhance, and modify the best ideas. 



The seed of your vision will be planted in these conversations. 





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