It’s a Sunday morning in the beginning of January and I’m working on year-end tax acknowledgments, which I have the wonderful issue of being overwhelmed with at the moment. Thank goodness.
And, then I began thinking what it takes for a visionary to make good on the need they see to fill. We are living in an incredibly nerve wracking time between year two of the pandemic and the unpredictable political environment.
This means that it is more important than ever to encourage artists and visionaries to carry out their sense of hope and higher calling and to remove the barriers to implementing their ideas.
As I am talking with a few founders and artists, the biggest barrier I’m hearing from them is their fear.
Here is where I think of a favorite trite quote that illustrates this theme. Of course, there is FDR’s quote of “The greatest fear is fear itself.”
One of my favorites from my eighth-grade Optimist Oratorical Contest speech, which my poor classmates were forced to hear me practice too often, comes from Napoleon Bonaparte. “They are able, because they think they are able.”
And, then, there is the universal wisdom that I am reminded of when listening to Johnny Cash, Darius Rucker and finally Willie Nelson to pass the time while looking at donations. Willie Nelson’s line (and my favorite of today) is “Well, you can’t make a record, if you ain’t got nothing to say.”
Fear can stop the best of us and it’s the job of the vision builders and those around them to hear what the fear is saying, and to see the greater picture that enables you to move forward.
Vision means that you have an ability to see something that isn’t there yet necessarily. It’s what you imagine is possible, without knowing how you are going to get there.
For people who are perfectionist and analytical, it’s truly a scary place to not have a plan from Point A to B without knowing what the outcomes will be. For those of us who are more conceptual in our best way of thinking, it’s harder to put a framework around the bigger goal. It takes many guided conversations and thought to truly build out a vision and to develop outcomes that you can measure success and sustainability by.
For many founders, they may not have had the help they needed to get their idea started and just lit the match to see what would happen. Once the fire starts and the program or organization is out of the gate, they need help along the way to build infrastructure. The infrastructure, if done well, will promote the mission, build on the original idea and sustain the vision beyond the founder for years to come.
There are implications to building vision through programming without planning. For a founder who finds themselves in the middle of a program that is seemingly growing without their understanding, 1) they may be unsure of why they deserve to carry the mantle or 2) they build the institution around themselves.
Both of these scenarios have serious drawbacks to organizational sustainability. The first issue makes it almost impossible to ask for help from others because you may feel undeserving as you watch your success quizzically and feel guilty for it. The second is even more perilous because it implies the organization is only worthy of its founder and the organization takes on the strengths and weaknesses of this leader’s personality. When the leader is gone, so is the backbone of the organizational leadership. This can be avoided by careful succession planning.
My hope for every visionary working to make our community better is that you celebrate every success and learn from every challenge. It is many small incremental steps that make one’s mission and vision possible. Building a mission, especially if one is starting a nonprofit, takes time and effort and thought and planning and vulnerability and risks. With successes, steps will still be missed, mistakes will be made, but that should help improve the overall organization as a result.
It is important to own your vision while seeking investment from others. Invite help and build from a place of confidence that a need has to be filled, even if you are unsure how to get there. Your leadership skills will grow in the process as well, and that is a great outcome for the visionary and the organization. Supporting the growth of our visionaries is instrumental to the health of all of our communities.