Leadership Is About Translation
Translation and repetition of the vision
“It is impossible to translate the poets. Can you translate music?” — Voltaire, 1732
Two hundred years ago today — on September 27, 1822 — Jean-François Champollion announced that he had cracked the code of the Rosetta Stone.
Discovered in 1799 during Napoleon’s campaign of Egypt, the stone is a slab of granodiorite standing four feet tall by two feet wide and one foot thick, covered in writing.
The writing is peculiar. It’s divided into three sections: the top is written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle is written in something called demotic (a shorthand for hieroglyphs), and the bottom section is written in Ancient Greek.
Thanks to that final section, Champollion solved the puzzle in 1822. For the first time in centuries, Egyptian hieroglyphs could be understood.
And the Rosetta Stone offers a lesson in what it means to lead.
The One Essential Job of Leaders
Do you know what the most important job of every single leader is?
To communicate the vision.
That’s it. It’s that simple.
Well, like anything simple, it takes an effort to achieve.
Leaders need to articulate a clear and compelling vision to help move the team forward. And then put that on repeat.
Join me for the chorus:
“Leaders need to articulate a clear and compelling vision to help move the team forward. And then put that on repeat.”
A vision is a common direction: it provides a goal, it helps people understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, it grounds the team, and gives them a sense of unity.
“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.
‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.
‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response.
‘I don’t know’, Alice answered.
‘Then’, said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.’” — Lewis Carroll, 1865
If your team doesn’t know where you’re heading, they’re rudderless. Each team member will have their own idea and behave accordingly.
It’s like trying to decipher hieroglyphics without the Rosetta Stone.
The Management Secret of the Rosetta Stone
And interestingly, there’s a detail about the Rosetta Stone that shows us the importance of creating a message that’s clear and compelling.
The middle section of the stone was written in demotic, or “everyday” Egyptian. You see, hieroglyphs were formal communication, while demotic was what Egyptians used in regular communication.
If you’re going to communicate something important, do it simply.
The stone marked the greatness of Ptolemy V, who was said to be “the god who maketh himself manifest, whose deeds are beautiful.”
So the Rosetta Stone — and this was only one of many; others were built and placed around the area — was created to ensure everyone in the region knew and understood the legitimacy and primacy of the pharaoh.
It was a clear and understandable vision for how Ptolemy V should be considered, repeated everywhere.
A vision doesn’t have to be a grandiose thing. It can be as simple as “To deliver profitable growth for all” or “To become the undisputed leader in customer service.”
The shorter the better.
Once you’ve got the vision, once you’ve got that direction, how you get there is for the team to figure out.
But without that first step of a simple vision, repeated relentlessly, your team will flounder.
You may get sick of hearing the message over and over, but it needs to be baked into every communication.
It isn’t enough to state your vision only at the annual meeting.
Your vision should be the opening salvo of every meeting, the closing of every email.
It should be drummed into everyone on the team in what you say and what you do — not tacked up on the wall like a maudlin inspirational poster.
Stating and restating the vision is a great unifier for your team.
By translating the vision for everyone, you serve as a Rosetta Stone for your organization.
And maybe we’ll be celebrating you in 200 years.
But first, wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate with your team this year, on your sojourn toward your destination?
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.