[July 22, 2015] Great leadership begins with a grand vision. Simply put, leadership is the ability to turn a vision into something. Having vision means identifying a clear goal for the future and ideally it’s also inspirational. The implication in the vision is that it’s realistic and that efforts to achieve it may mean doing things differently such as generating more ideas, dreams, goals, and encouragement.
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” – Warren Bennis
U.S. President John F. Kennedy had a grand vision of putting a man on the moon (see my comments on this in the link here). Eleanor Roosevelt saw a world of equal rights and equal opportunity for women and racial minorities. But having a vision can also mean looking for simple things like graduating from college or opening a new business. That is why the inspirational component of a vision is so important; when things get tough, only the motivated will continue to press ahead.
Having known many leaders, both great and successful, I’ve always worked to figure out what was it that was common among them. I wanted to duplicate that commonality. It turns out that having a realistic, easily communicated vision was one of them. Great leaders put a lot of thought into what values, goals, ideas, and activities they are most passionate about. Timing is also important.
For example, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln long believed that slavery was abhorrent and should be outlawed. During the Civil War he found it critical that he personally announce that he would free slaves by executive presidential action. Of course, we all know that he did this with the Emancipation Proclamation but what we don’t know is that he first announced his intent to his chief advisors and cabinet 153 years ago today in 1862. He would wait until the Union Army achieved a substantial military victory to make the announcement to ensure it had impact.1
While a leader’s vision looks to the future, it helps identify where their values and ideals will lead. This is why it’s vital for a vision to be clearly communicated and thus simple. Obstacles are always at hand, conditions for success not always present, and the time available to do the right things are often a challenge. But a vision helps us see past those things that drag us down and it points us in the direction when things are not going our way.
It helps us to avoid self-limiting our own abilities or imposing unnecessary restrictions on others or ourselves … and that is the ultimate secret to being a real leader. Having vision is the one common denominator in leaders and consistently pays dividends to those who hold it.
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