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"Combine Clarity with Urgency"
by Tom Goodman
February 22, 2007

It's the combination of clarity and urgency that makes a leader's vision effective.

Bill Donahue pointed that out in a recent article.  He's the executive director of small groups for the Willow Creek Association.  In an article from a print journal, Donahue says there are three reasons why vision gets a little fuzzy and what leaders can do to adjust the focus.

The article made me review my own work of vision-casting across these four years at Hillcrest.  I haven't been able to find it online for you, but across these last three weeks of LeaderLines I've tried to summarize his points and my reactions to those points.

First, he said vision can get fuzzy when leaders focus on "vision-casting" while neglecting "problem-casting."  I commented on that point two weeks ago.  Second, he said leaders have to do more than just focus on what they want to achieve—we have to communicate what we plan to preserve.  I shared my thoughts on that insight last week.

Today I'll wrap up my reactions to the article with his third point.  He said that leaders need to combine clarity (what steps need to be taken) with urgency (why this must happen now).  Our clarity improves when we issue a call to action that is "clear, doable, challenging, and rewarding."  Our urgency improves as we communicate the biblical, personal, relevant, and consequential reasons why we must act immediately.

Donahue points out the different results of vision-casting depending on whether these two qualities are present:

Bored:  This is what a leader sees in his or her people when urgency and clarity are both missing.  People see the "vision" as just an announcement.

Frustrated:  This is what leaders see when they cast a vision with urgency but the clarity is missing.  People need to see simple, clear next steps to take.

Skeptical:  This is what leaders see when they cast a vision with clarity but the urgency is missing.  When we leaders explain what needs to be done without telling people why it is essential to act now, our people ask themselves, "Why are we doing all this activity?  What is the point?"

Inspired:  This is what leaders see when they cast a vision with both urgency and clarity.  Donahue says, "When there is a compelling reason to act (urgency) combined with a clear call to action that is doable, challenging, and rewarding, people tend to embrace the problem and are inspired to move forward."

I'd say that, overall, we've moved away from the "Frustrated" stage toward the "Inspired" stage at Hillcrest.  Of course, having a pastor comment on his own skill at vision-casting is a bit like asking the head waiter how the steak is!  But my overall impression is that we're closer to the word "Inspired" than "Frustrated" when describing our church.

As Donahue says, "Frustrated" is the stage a group is at when there's urgency but not much clarity.  There are a lot of reasons why this could have described our church in the first couple of years of my start.  For one, I was following a good pastor's 13-year tenure, and there's always some confusion while a congregation and its new pastor get to know each other.  Also, since I had not served in the U.S. for 5 years—and I had not served in a city for more than 10 years—I decided to be an observer for a couple of years.  Instead of saying, "We're not reaching our neighborhood, so here's what we're going to do," I said, "We're not reaching our neighborhood—any ideas?"  I still think this was the right approach to take, but urgency without clarity did create some congregation anxiety.  In my first 2 years, I would have become a rich man if I got a dollar for every time someone asked, "What's our vision?  Where's this church going?"

As I complete my fourth year this May, I'd say the congregation is closer to Donahue's "Inspired" stage than his "Frustrated" stage.  Of course, I'm still asking questions and still getting to know the community Hillcrest is commissioned to reach.  But I think the Ministry Staff and I are starting to communicate a "doable, challenging, and rewarding" plan of action.  I'm convinced this is happening as I look at the overall increase in attendance, specifically the increase in the number of young adults who've joined us (did you know we're expecting seven more babies to our nursery this year?).  Also, I think about the amazing things that are starting to happen among our Boomers with the launch of "Second Half Ministries," the THEM stories people pass on to me, and the success of Common Ground Café and the two morning services.  I could add the appearance of families from our Mother's Day Out program who have begun to attend our church, and the success of our new "Hillcrest Hoops" feature in the Upward Basketball program.

Since my "official" anniversary isn't until May, it's a little early for me to say it.  Still, I'm glad for these first four years with you, and I'm looking forward to "Year Five!"


P.S., it may be a little early for me to reflect on my fourth anniversary with you, but did you know that today marks Jim Siegel's third anniversary with us?  Congrats to Jim!

Another P.S.  Have you seen the video I've loaded at GetAnchored?  Hilarious!  Click here.

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