The Nature of Visionary Leadership

George Frederic Watts (1817–1904): Hope. Vision is something that is taken for granted. But without it, the future seems more forbidding.

It’s said that manager’s plan but leaders have a vision. So what does this mean? It means that they can use their imagination in ways most people cannot. After all, before something happens in the real world, you want to future develop your vision for others to follow. 


By Murray Johannsen, December 29, 2016.  Feel free to connect with the author by  Linkedin,  this site,  or by  email


Visionary leadership is closely related to the transformational leadership style. The major difference is between the two involves the focus on the future. Visionary leaders live more in the future and they often use a vision of the future as a way to mobilize followers. It’s one of a number of really important leadership styles

Overview

“One faces a choice in life. You can do what you are told by parents and the bosses or you can define a vision for yourself.” — Murray Johannsen

If you talk to four or five year old  they are always clear about what they are going to do with their life. They say with absolute certainty that they are going to be a nurse, a teacher, a doctor, a fireman. If you ask the same question of teenagers, many choke, being totally clueless. And those that say something, parrot back their parents view about going to college, becoming a professional who makes lots of money. For example, many a mother would love to say with pride, “My son, the doctor.” It’s one thing to give your mom brag rights with her friends, it’s another to follow a vision. 

On this page there are:

• 2 Historical Example of Leaders With Vision

• 4 Ways Leaders Can Use a Vision

• The Common Man Definition of Vision

• 6 Reasons Most Adults Lack Vision

2 Famous Leaders and Their Visions

Constantine The Great

The Vision of the Cross by Giulio Romano. This paint represents the vision of Contantine the Great prior to a battle. It is said that he had a dream or a vision that told him to put the sign of the cross on the shields of his army.
The Vision of the Cross by Giulio Romano. This paint represents the vision of Contantine the Great prior to a battle. It is said that he had a dream or a vision that told him to put the sign of the cross on the shields of his army.

 

Mother Teresa

Image by: Tony Bowdan. Statue of Mother Teresa. More recently, Mother Teresa also was given a vision that changed her life. This was described as by her as a vision with three parts to it.

 

These are just two examples, of leader’s who has a vision that they acted on. More than that, they got others to get involved in their vision.

Four Characteristics of a Leader’s Vision

“Some things change, some things don’t.” — Morpheus, The Matrix Reloaded.

435px-Blind_men_and_elephant4
Blind Men and an Elephant A classic tale that been told in the Middle East and India for thousands of years. From The Heath readers by grades, D.C. Heath and Company (Boston), p. 69. A classic tale of what happens when individuals lack vision.

Clearly, people with vision are highly motivated. It’s not work to follow a vision — it’s joy. The U.S. founding fathers, the ones who came up with the Constitution, Mother Teresa (a Nobel laureate) and Mahatma Gandhi are just a few who had a great vision. For those who wish to act on a vision, general characteristics include:

It Provides Direction. One puts forward a desired future and moves followers toward it.

It Uses Foresight. Typically considered a part of wisdom, it is sometimes said that a truly great visionary leader knows what’s going to happen before others do.

It is believed. One must be right or at least perceived to be right.

• It motivates. If the message cannot energize those hearing it, the would be visionary leader would be better off teaching economics.

Four Ways Leaders Use Vision

It means that you can use imagination to to construct a path to get to into a desired future. They:

1. Use Vision as an End

 

For example, close your eyes for a moment. Imagine that you are on a basketball court. See the ball going through the hoop and points added on the scoreboard. This is what some refer to as goal imagery.Some leaders view vision as a goal, an end result, as in a destination at the end of a journey. In this case, the leadership vision represents a state, the results of a problem solved or an opportunity manifest.

In this case, it is described as an especially vivid or intense set of mental images— something above and beyond that ordinary.

2. Use Vision as a Means For Defining Action

Go west, young man!” — john soule. Advice given to those seeking opportunity in the 19th century america. If soule would be alive today, perhaps his advice to the young seeking opportunity in 21st century would be, "go east, far east."
Go west, young man!” — john soule. Advice given to those seeking opportunity in the 19th century america. If soule would be alive today, perhaps his advice to the young seeking opportunity in 21st century would be, “go east, far east.”

 

Sometimes, vision in leadership is more of a journey than the destination. In this case, leaders must construct the means.

To take an example. You are an investor and you want to make 10 thousand Euros within sixty days. One must see the one best path from among thousands of potential choices.

The importance of leadership vision as a means is illustrated with the following story.

Once upon a time there was a man, who know not where he was going since he know not where he was. Since he does not know where he was, he could go neither forward, nor backward. Eventually, he saw the sun setting and saw how to go west.

3. Use Vision as a Way of Defining Operational Strategy

StrategyModel

To use vision as a strategy, one needs to define three elements—the plan, current state and desired state. It means defining where one is now, where one wants to be in the future and how one is going to get there. In many cases, a leadership vision is about defining all three to be able to persuade the skeptical that there something is doable. 

In some cases, this is easy. For example, if one has the money, it’s easy to come up with a strategy for buying a home since the process has been defined and followed by millions over the years. An the other hand, nation building is a lot more difficult. As the neocons in the Bush Administration found out when they tried to rebuild Iraq after it had been wrecked by war.

4. Use Vision as Part of Janusian Thinking

The sculpture depicts the Roman God Janus whose two heads saw both forward into the future and into the past. T It's something we are supposed to due (but typically don't) in January of each year. This god was typically found at the entrance of a Roman home with one face looking outside and the other inside.
The sculpture depicts the Roman God Janus whose two heads saw both forward into the future and into the past. T It’s something we are supposed to due (but typically don’t) in January of each year. This god was typically found at the entrance of a Roman home with one face looking outside and the other inside.

Janus was actually a transformational symbol who was represented as having two faces. When one walked into a Roman home one saw one face looking outside and the other looking inside. Or you might say, one face was looking forward into the future while the other face was looking into the past.

You might say, that to know how to act in the present, one has to keep one face on the past and one face on the future. This is symbolized by the Roman god Janus.

Common Definitions of Vision

To the common man, vision is a process that happens using our eyes.

1. Vision as The Ability to See

Beli-hibiskus


In this meaning, vision is all about being able to see. Seeing is actually an incredibly complex process which different areas of the brain interacting through the optical nerve and the visual cortex. To illustrate the complexity of the process, the retina of the each eye contains about 7 million cones and 75 to 150 million rods.

2. Vision as Perception

284px-Ehrenstein.svg

Optical illusions are ways to trick the eyes into see something something that is not there. The perceptual aspect of vision can also occur when someone is hypnotize to hallucinate objects that do not exist. For example, rather than seeing a pen, a hypnotized person would see a paper.

Six Reasons Why Many Adults Lack Vision

For a number of individual and societal reasons, visionaries tend to be rather rare. After all, how many of you in August of 2007 foresaw that much of the world would be in recession by December of 2008? Yet, the forces leading recession were clearly evident in 2007.

Just as it is important for each of us to develop vision, it’s even more important that our leadership is visionary. A general lack of visionary leadership results from a number of individual and social factors. A few of the more important ones are listed below.

1. Many Tend to Live In the Past

Der Jungbrunnen, 1546, Quest For the Fountain of YouthDer Jungbrunnen, 1546, Quest For the Fountain of Youth

 

Unfortunately, few people spend any meaningful time thinking about the future. They think mostly about what happened to them in the past. How sad. 

2. Imagination Is Not Exercised

“Use it or lose it.” — A saying often heard in body building circles

Illustration for Edgar Allan Poe's story "Ligeia" by Harry Clarke (1889-1931), published in 1919. How many times has a teacher, your parents, your boss asked you to close your eyes and use your imagination? For most everyone that answer is never.
Illustration for Edgar Allan Poe’s story “Ligeia” by Harry Clarke (1889-1931), published in 1919. How many times has a teacher, your parents, your boss asked you to close your eyes and use your imagination? For most everyone that answer is never.

 

 

I have had a number of college students who have told me the answer is, “zero.” In my case, not once in thousands of hours of class room education has an instructor, professor, teacher even asked me to harness the power of imagination. In fact, if you actually close your eyes even briefly, the teacher or (the boss for that matter) would assume that you’re a slacker who is whiling a way the time sleeping.

The education system (at least in America) stresses language, analysis, logic and reason—what people tend to call left hemispheric processes. Nothing wrong with that. However, rather than imagination being a partner in the thinking process, it is the beggar you would rather not see and want to ignore.

3. We Ignore Imagery When Thinking

Normal consciousness has many strengths; but experiencing visionary imagery is not one of them. We see the images coming from the eyes, but we are barely aware of the images associated with thoughts.

Try this thought experiment. Keep your eyes open. Now think, “I am happy!” Are you aware of any image? Many would say no, especially when that statement is sandwiched between other thoughts.

Now think, “I’m happy,” again, but this time keep the word happy in mind for a few seconds, as a focus of attention. Does an image come up? Some say no, but many would say an image does come to mind when you give it enough time.

Now try the same thing with the eyes closed. Visualize “I am happy.” Is the image more easy to see? Most would say it is, closing the eyes helps to see the picture or the movie. Of course, that brings up an interesting question. Do you routinely close your eyes and visualize things? Again, most people would say no.

4. We Lack Parental Support When Young

Krishna meets his parents. Sometimes, children take there vision from one or both parents. This leadership vision is more than just getting a degree. It can involve a life purpose.
Krishna meets his parents. Sometimes, children take there vision from one or both parents. This leadership vision is more than just getting a degree. It can involve a life purpose.

 

Parents often discourage the evolution of imagination. Children tend to live in a world of fantasy anyway so it would be relatively easy to induce them to become visionary. But many parents assume vision is like fantasy—it’s more destructive than constructive.

5. We Do Not Use Imagery in Normal Conversation

Take this quick test. Can you define the following?


1. Metaphor

2. Simile

3. Analogy

4. Allegory

5. Symbols

6. Myth

7. Idioms

8. Parables

9. Archetypes

10. Hallucination

If you cannot get 6 more, it means you have not been that you are not that familiar with the use of words with high image content.

6. We Don’t Pay Attention to Dreams

Visión fantástica o Asmodea. Óleo sobre muro trasladado a lienzo. (Goy). Vision is sometimes communicated in a dream, Unfortunately few adults pay attention to them. The ones that do, get direction, a characteristic of being a leader.
Visión fantástica o Asmodea. Óleo sobre muro trasladado a lienzo. (Goy). Vision is sometimes communicated in a dream, Unfortunately few adults pay attention to them. The ones that do, get direction, a characteristic of being a leader.

 

Unfortunately, many adults do not remember dream imagery. This despite the fact that we dream three or four times a night. Paying more attention to dreams would help to exercise one’s imagination and thus develop vision.

Conclusion

Visionary leadership can be considered to be a type of transformational leadership (or the other way around). It’s rather rare though. But it’s rare partly because it is not cultivated but it could be.

Leadership Skill Development