From the CEO

Be Thou My Vision

I had a call last week from a CEO who was asking about staff retention. She wanted to know what trends we were seeing and how other member organizations in Citygate Network were doing with getting staff to stick around. I told her that some were doing fine. I had just heard from one of her colleagues who told me they were finally back to full strength and their volunteer list had now risen to where it was pre-pandemic.

But I also had to say that some are still struggling, coming off the closures of the past couple of years. That’s because people have learned new work habits and adhesion is hard to attain these days. Long-term in the minds of a lot of younger folks is not much more than a couple of years.

As I often get asked, she wanted to know if I saw any difference between those organizations that were doing fine and those that were struggling. I said that if I had to identify one thing that keeps people around it would be this: the ability of the CEO to communicate a compelling vision.

Having just talked about blindness in my first point, I’ll now drop a few words on you about vision—something that I will be teaching next week in a session on Values, Mission, and Vision in another one of Citygate Network’s Ripple Effect board performance acceleration programs.

While mission is primarily a statement of purpose, vision is a statement of direction or destination. Vision answers the question, “Where are we headed?” Vision is the force that invents the future. And with an exciting vision, an organization can reverse causality: Instead of the present determining the future, the future determines the present.

Jack Welsh, the iconic former head of General Electric, said, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” There are four elements to Welch’s quote: create, articulate, own, and complete. All are necessary, but it’s the articulation that keeps people around you engaged long term. How are you doing with telling the story of where you are going? Is it still exciting to you? Are others able to sense that excitement in your voice?

I have several translations and paraphrases of the Bible on my bookshelf at home. I’ve used them all at one time or another when preaching or giving devotionals. The proof is that they are full of note cards and folded sheets of paper with message outlines and quotes. I came across one such note in my New Living Translation this past weekend. At the bottom I had scribbled this:

If you want people to help you build a ship, don’t tell them how to nail wood together; instill in them a deep longing to sail the endless sea.

That is how you articulate vision.