America Cries Out for Visionary Leaders
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
– Proverbs 29:18
Vision and visionary leadership seem to have been around for as long as history records. Perhaps the greatest visionary leader of all times is Jesus Christ, who was constantly talking to His disciples regarding the significance and purpose of their calling. Jesus gave these men a vision and purpose of something greater than themselves, and they were able to see the benefit and long lasting value of their work.
American history is also steeped in tradition of visionary leaders. The vision of our founding fathers resulted in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Abraham Lincoln’s visionary leadership abolished slavery and preserved the Union.
The visionary leadership of industrialists such as J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller built great industrial enterprises that have allowed our nation to grow and prosper. Finally, many other visionary leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and Martin Luther King Jr. have provided critical direction at different times in the history of our great nation.
Leadership today is more difficult and problematic than ever before. The world today is much more complex and confusing than at any other point in history. When one examines the problems facing the world today, many issues come to mind. Six concerns that Warren Bennis lists in the forward to “Visionary Leadership” by Burt Nanus include the following:
- The threat of nuclear terrorism;
- Worldwide famine and plague;
- Global warming and the destruction of the biosphere;
- The roiling conflict between nationalism and globalism, as witnessed in the former nations of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia;
- Industrial competitiveness; and
- The degeneration of U.S. society, as expressed in increasing poverty and violence, declining literacy, and growing racial strife.
The underlying reason for all of these types of problems stems from a lack of leadership in our society today. Without strong visionary leadership, these problems will continue to escalate until reaching a state of cataclysmic proportion. “Too many Americans believe that the bottom line isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, and America is strangling on that lack of vision,” according to Bennis.
So then, what is vision? Many of the leading authorities on visionary leadership such as Bennis, Nanus, Steven Covey, Ken Blanchard, Henry Mintzberg, and a host of other writers all mention the importance of vision to leadership. Vision has a variety of definitions. All of these definitions seem to include a mental image or picture, an orientation for the future, as well as aspects of direction toward the attainment of a goal or mission.
There are four aspects to a clear vision, according to the authors of “Leadership by the book: Tools to transform your workplace.” These aspects are purpose, values, image, and goals. Purpose defines the fundamental reason why your organization exists. Values define how people are to behave as they work towards the purpose. Image is simply a representation of what things would be like if all were running according to plan. Finally, goals focus the people’s energy towards accomplishing the purpose.
If we want to understand the future of visionary leadership, we must look at current leaders such as Bill Gates. Gates’ leadership model includes examining the environment and developing a vision for success. Many forces from the external and internal environment are reshaping organizations of the Twenty-first Century. Such forces include things like technological changes, globalization, relative affluence in material goods, and information or knowledge-based economies.
There is no clear definition of what makes a person a visionary leader. Our educational system is not designed to train leaders; it is designed to train managers. Today’s organization expects leadership and management from the same individual.
“Research of the past few years has demonstrated that leaders lead as they manage. They use the small, often mundane daily tasks and interactions involved in managing an organization as opportunities,” according to A.L. Manasse in an article on vision and leadership published in the Peabody Journal of Education.
Visionary leaders gather and analyze information about the organization and its people. They try to convey their vision through planting ideas with employees.
It appears, therefore, that the measure of a successful leader comes from how they formulate a vision and how they communicate what they are thinking to their followers.
I have found in the study of many historical visionary leaders that there seems to be a crisis or great cause around that which they have focused their energy. Effective leaders have agendas; they are totally results-oriented. They adopt challenging new visions of what is both possible and desirable, communicate their visions, and persuade others to become so committed to these new directions that they are eager to lend their resources and energies to make them happen.
We are at a critical point in the history of our world. At no time in the past were visionary leaders more needed by society than today. With all the complex issues facing the world today, men and women of vision must step to the forefront and lead into the new millennium.
It is up to parents, mentors, teachers, and the educational system to prepare young people for the future. Tomorrow’s visionary leaders must be encouraged to be experimental and responsible. They must be taught leadership and vision as an important subject of study in the home, at school, and at work.
Dr. John Frazier is an associate professor of business at Southern Wesleyan University. Previously he spent 12 years in the automotive industry in various capacities. Dr. Frazier earned a B.S. in Business Administration and an M.S .in Management from Roberts Wesleyan College. He also earned a doctorate in business administration from Anderson University in Anderson, IN.He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.