6 Keys To Casting Vision In Higher Education


This post is adapted from Storied Leadership: Living and Leading from the Christian Narrative, written by Brian Jensen & Keith Martel. The book offers a perspective on leadership that is developed from the rich story of the Scriptures.

Leaders understand the importance of vision. Time and again they are captured by the potential realities they see in the world. Leaders have the ability to navigate the tension between their current circumstances and these potential realities and influence others to do the same. God’s intended design for the creation is that there is a way the world ought to be. For the Christian leader, a desire for the way things ought to be is embedded in every vision.

My family and I recently moved to a different house. There were no major problems, but as with any new living space, it came with its challenges. I immediately saw things that I wanted to change in order to make the house our own. I began to envision what it could become. New light fixtures, paint certain rooms, update the wiring, change the landscaping, add a bedroom upstairs—the list quickly grew. In my enthusiasm, I thought that I might be able to finish the list over a weekend. Of course this was ridiculous thinking, but I was captured by the idea of what my house could look like and I was ready to make it happen.

A vision-casting process does not happen over a weekend. It takes time to realize, develop, communicate, and execute. This pattern should be a regular practice for leaders. We are always in one or more of these phases of the vision process. Vision can be a daunting word, particularly for the young emerging leader, but it isn’t only for Fortune 500 company boardrooms. The Christian leader in higher education carries out the vision process in her family, her friendships, and her community. All areas of influence are fertile ground for this process.

Here are 6 keys to effectively casting your vision in higher education:

1. Realize the Vision

Remember that leaders work to see what could be and should be as they navigate God’s creation. They survey the landscape of the times they are in and they are able to see it for what it truly is. As we see the world around us, we must see the oughts around us—those things that should be better than they appear. The ability to see positive alternative future realities is how we start to realize a vision is needed.

It may be a program under your direction needing energy, a relationship requiring reconciliation, or a campus club wanting direction. Realizing potential realities in any given situation is the first step in the vision process. Keep your eyes open for these opportunities, listen to those around you for clues as to what might be needed, and continually pray for guidance in each of your spheres of influence.

2. Develop the Vision

It is one thing to realize that there is a reality to be pursued, but then what? Visions without thoughtful intentionality can fade quickly, or even do more harm than good. A healthy and successful vision requires work and cultivation so that it can take root and influence purposeful change. Make sure that you take the time to do this. It can be a difficult part of the vision process. It will take patience and focus, but without it, a vision may die before it even gets off the ground.

  • You could begin by simply writing out your vision. What do you see as a potential reality? Write down what you believe needs to change about a particular situation.
  • Begin to pray and think intentionally about this situation. Pray and discuss your vision with others that you trust, asking for honest feedback.
  • Take inventory of the values that will be manifest through this new reality, and at the same time consider the costs of this new reality.
  • You may also want to investigate previous situations that are similar to your own. What can you learn from these as you craft your own vision.

3. Communicate the Vision

A leader uses clear and intentional communication to cast a vision. Similar to communicating expectations, leaders will only create more challenges for themselves if they fail to communicate their vision. Again, this does not have to be an intimidating presentation in front of hundreds of people. For some leaders, it will at times be a large presentation, but it can also be a brief inspiring talk to a small Bible study group, or a motivating talk with family about improving relationships.

Always consider the timing of when to share your vision. A well timed-vision cast is a powerful thing. This timing should be after a vision has been well developed and should thoughtfully consider those that will be hearing it and affected by it. The purpose of sharing your vision is to motivate and excite others, not you. If you have arrived at this point, you are already excited and ready for this potential reality—now capture others’ imaginations with it. This also inspires collective buy-in for the vision. A shared vision is rare and invaluable in the process of creating positive change.

4. Execute the Vision

It is possible to realize a potential reality, fully develop it, and communicate it in an inspiring fashion. But without action it will not accomplish change—which is at the heart of leadership. The leader that casts the vision must also live out the vision. To see change, one must act to see it happen. Leadership is about modeling the way for others to follow in order to influence change.

This is a difficult part of the vision process. Remember that the faithfulness journey is a long road. Living out our visions is not always a quick realization of new realities. Some of them will take a long time and will need continual reminders of the vision that is guiding you along the way.

5. Remember the Vision

We have spent significant time exploring the power and importance of stories throughout this book. A vision is a particular story about a potential reality—and it needs to be told over and over again. Just as the Israelites did as they wandered, agents of leadership retell the vision story to each other. Good remembering inspires hope and courage during the times when recalling the vision is difficult.

6. Revisit the Vision

It is okay to recalibrate visions. Leaders embrace the fact that they often face ever changing environments. Remember my house? The vision I have for it continues to change even now. As I make certain changes to the house, I begin to see more of its character revealed and I adjust the vision, even slightly, in order to create a more robust picture of what it will be like someday. I must also deal with setbacks, mistakes, and distractions as I work out the vision for my house. A leader understands that visions are not executed in a bubble. There will be bumps in the road along the way. They learn to adjust and maintain a focus on the vision.

Reimagining the Student Experience: Formative Practices for Changing Times, edited by Brian Jensen & Sarah Visser will be released in July 2019. The book is designed to help professionals doing the good work of student affairs in Christian colleges and universities.

What other strategies are you using to effectively cast your vision?

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