In our research with thousands of leaders, one skill stands out — by far — as the most common improvement area: their ability to sell a vision to employees. Over 50 percent of leaders we’ve assessed struggle to demonstrate this form of visionary leadership, a larger deficiency percentage than for any other leadership skill. Leaders are consistently unable to vividly paint a compelling picture of the future in a way that inspires others to follow them along a challenging route toward a new business reality. This is an improvement area for most leaders because it requires them to synthesize and clarify ambiguous, complex business concepts into a clear path forward.
Just describing a direction in words is no longer enough; leaders must convert words into visual concepts to make their messages understandable and evocative, and to make them stick. But while information visualization is a linchpin leadership skill between business complexity and clear, compelling messaging, it’s not yet a natural strength for many leaders. It is, however, not only a highly effective and broadly applicable communication technique but also one that’s learnable.
Visualization has never been more timely and vital as a skill for leaders of all levels. Not only because of the ever-increasing amount of data leaders are being asked to process and apply to make decisions — data far too extensive to be comprehensibly read through and that draws on incredibly well-honed and rapidly-triggered visual and perceptual abilities — but also because the evidence for visualization’s superior impact can no longer be ignored.
Research is rapidly accumulating for visualization’s advantages over more traditional and common forms of communication in business settings, such as inscrutable tables of numbers and endless lists of bulleted text. Unique, visualized information is far more persuasive and more memorable to an audience, and more effective in guiding high-caliber management decisions. Even for conveying complex business concepts such as strategic direction, visualization generates more attention to, agreement with, and recall of business strategies.