Perhaps the most important quality that sets a leader apart from a mere manager is the ability to construct and articulate a vision. Leaders use vision to establish and interpret a hopeful image of the future. This visual picture must be persuasive, attractive and desirable to everyone on the team. The need for vision is important for organizations, group activities and family relationships. Leadership is enhanced by the ability to visualize both the challenges of today and the aspirations and hopes of a better tomorrow. To be most effective, this vision needs to be communicated so clearly that everyone is able to mentally grasp it and picture themselves living in that future. Vision needs to be possible and believable, but it also needs to be challenging and have an unrestricted feel to it. For example, a part of the Microsoft’s Corporation’s vision has been “a computer on every desk and in every home.”
Providing vision is always an important need for a leader. However, it is even more important during times of crisis or stress. During times of great difficulty, people especially need a positive vision of meaning and hope. When either an individual or an organization is in a state of confusion and in despair, they are most receptive to an optimistic illustration of a mission or purpose! How can leaders provide this kind of a visionary message? It is only possible to those who take the time and effort to discover the most fervent desires and deepest values of their supporters. Experienced leaders realize there is more than a single desire and value to be discovered. In reality, the future often announces itself from afar. For most, the noisy clutter of today drowns out the timid sounds of events to come. For the leader, focused attention on these weak timid sounds provides the seeds of vision for a better tomorrow. When communicated clearly, a vision helps people to overcome their perceived defensive positions and self-limitations to discover something bigger than themselves. It inspires them to desire membership within a group and to accept a degree of self-sacrifice. I believe author and management consultant Peter Block defines vision in a majestic way as:
“Our deepest expression of what we want. It is the preferred future, a desirable state, an ideal state, an expression of optimism. It expresses the spiritual and idealistic side of human nature. It is a dream created in our waking hours of how we would like our lives to be.”
In the past, an organization’s vision was typically developed and established by a single individual such as the president or CEO. A single leader exclusively created a vision and then persuaded others to accept it. In recent times, many are now seeing the wisdom of developing a vision that incorporates the aspirations of more than one individual or a small elite group of individuals. In our modern cultural climate, no amount of oratory skill or personal charisma can sell a limited vision that reflects only one leader’s views. Vision isn’t about wildly claiming to know the future. It is about discovering the hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow and providing the motivation to get there. Leadership recognizes that even the seeds of imperfectly formed images expressed by others can also help create a new vision.
Once a vision is congealed, how does the leader convey the mission and inspire others onward? Most people would say the answer is to provide stirring oratory or charisma. Yet these powerful tools are not absolutely necessary for visionary leadership. For example, Thomas Jefferson was a poor orator and public speaker. Yet he used his polished writing skills and personal warmth to motivate others. Other powerful tools include the use of symbols and stories to communicate a vision. A leader can frame a common experience that followers can all relate to. The famous “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King framed the experience of the March on Washington in 1963 to his followers. King framed the event by inspiring his listeners to feel that history was being made in their very presence.
Another recognized way for the leader to communicate vision is to express it as often as possible with vivid imagery that includes slogans or colorful emotional language. Take the time to explain just how the vision can be achieved and exhibit a personal example of optimism and confidence. As others move toward acceptance of the vision, express confidence in their attitudes and skills. Catch them doing something well and help them to develop self-confidence. As a leader, remember to celebrate the successes and milestones of achievement toward the vision. This helps to generate enthusiasm and excitement since everyone appreciates recognition and rewards.
Finally, as a leader you must lead by personal example, modeling the values you expect of others. Nothing erodes a vision more quickly than a hypocritical leader who violates expected standards and values. Your example should also include the desire to give others the authority and empowerment they need to do their jobs and get them done effectively. Remember, empowering means to provide the resources others need to carry out the tasks assigned to them.
In conclusion, consider the importance of your own personal vision. Outside of the business world we also need to maintain a vision within our families and our personal lives. Take the time to ponder your own personal vision! Write it down as your very own mission statement and refer to it often. As an individual it will give you the optimistic inspiration for a better tomorrow and it will provide you with a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
“It is sure to be dark, if you shut your eyes!”