Tips and Techniques November 2016

Tips and Techniques

As Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s research has proven, the defining characteristic of leaders is the ability to be forward looking, and taking the time to define a vision is a critical first step. Expressing that vision means that leaders must be able to envision a future that is exciting and ennobling, portraying it in a way that compels others to want to struggle with them to achieve that vision. There are a variety of ways to express a vision. Using this Visual Explorer activity in a Leadership Challenge® Workshop or retreat setting, when focusing on the Practice of Inspire a Shared Vision, is one that has been successful with many leaders. 

Empower leaders with the tools to become effective storytellers using the technique of visual representation to illustrate their vision. Leaders will learn to clarify their vision, share their passion around the higher meaning and purpose of their work, and clearly describe a unique and ideal future that will appeal to others and enlist them in the cause. By finding a way to visually express their vision, participants learn to create a vision message that is impactful, memorable, and applicable.

This activity helps leaders break through barriers in communication and perception to develop a well-defined vision—vs one based on preconceived notions of what followers think they know about the leader—that will unify the organization or team and get everyone on the same page.

Can be used 1:1 in a coaching situation, or in a workshop, retreat, or conference situation with many participants

Time Required
45 minutes

Materials and Equipment
There are a number of picture products on the market, including the Visual Explorer card deck available from the Center for Creative Leadership®. Both the Letter-size Set or the Post Card Set include hundreds of pictures that can evoke a variety of different emotions. If you are creative, you also can make your own. Or, if you have a quantity of different types of magazines, you can have participants create their own vision board. The pictures are used as a visual representation of each individual’s vision message.

Area Set-up
Spread the pictures or vision cards out on tables. If you do not have a space with spare or empty tables, you can use the floor. Ideally, this is at the back of the room, or in an adjacent space. If possible, have a co-facilitator set up the pictures as you introduce the Practice of Inspire a Shared Vision.

  1. As you process through the Practice of Inspire a Shared Vision, setting up what a compelling vision is (e.g., using Martin Luther King audio or video, or other introduction) ask participants to begin to think of their own vision message. Give them a few minutes to begin crafting their vision message around their exciting dream of the future. 
  2. Ask participants to come forward and browse the tables until they select a photo that uniquely represents their individual vision message. (In some cases, the photo selects the participant!) 
  3. Once the photos have been selected and leaders have returned to their seats, ask members gathered at each table to split into small groups [usually groups of 3-4] and share with others what their picture represents to them. (This may be different than what the observers see!). Instruct participants that they have five minutes to begin to share their vision message for their team or organization with their table mates. 
  4. After each participant has had the opportunity to present, ask each small group to critique and provide important feedback that will help their fellow leaders refine and sharpen their vision message. This presentation/feedback model goes around the table so that each person in the group has an opportunity to share. 
  5. At the conclusion of the Inspire a Shared Vision module, assign participants “homework” to craft a vision message of 3 to 5 minutes; if appropriate, inform participants that there will be an opportunity to present their vision message to others on the final day of the program. 
Note to Facilitators: 
Provide an opportunity for participants to share this final vision message with other participants on the final day of the program. (This can be offered as a challenge-by-choice, as some may choose not to share.) This allows everyone the chance to have a “dry run” before finalizing what they want to share with their team, their leader, or others once they return to the workplace.

This final presentation of these passionate vision messages is a very moving and rewarding experience. To this day, I can see a picture that was selected by a participant 10 years ago and immediately remember the person and their vision message. The experience is that evocative and memorable!

The development of a vision message is so individualized that there really is no “group process” to debrief. That being said, however, you may consider offering the group an opportunity for a general discussion about how it felt as both a presenter and a listener.

Cheryl Johnson, a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge in both facilitation and coaching, is Assistant Director of Human Resources, Employee Development at Santa Clara University (SCU) who has been using The Leadership Challenge as a facilitator and coach with SCU leaders since 2008. She can be reached at


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