“The very essence of leadership is that you must have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet” (Theodore Hesburgh)

There have only been a few of them – country leaders who have managed to impart vision to the people to bring changes to attitudes and behaviour and thus create a better life for all citizens. Maybe selfishness, power and greed have stood in the way of most of the others attaining lofty impact. In many cases, most of the population feel substantially helpless as service delivery, appropriate and transparent budget spending and departmental leadership become mythological concepts. These countries languish with a quagmire of problems.

There certainly seem to be more leaders in the business and other organisation environments that have succeeded to empower their people and simultaneously achieve great organisational results, although many others still struggle with internal corporate politics, power games and manipulative cultures. The latter breed toxic environments where people’s behaviour is prompted by fear and threats – work here is not a great place to spend the majority of ones’ awake hours.

From a database of 3 871 executives in which several key factors that influenced the working environment were assessed, McBer & Company (now The Hay Group), from Boston, derived several managerial styles that were behavioural predictors of organisational climate (1996), perhaps the key one of their declared six being visionary leadership. Visionary leadership is most appropriate when industry or market changes require a new organisational vision or when a revised and better clarified direction is needed. The visionary leader’s purpose is to shepherd people toward shared dreams and instill hope in a new shared direction.

The visionary leadership style purposefully grows the emotional climate and transforms the organisational spirit – it may “show the way” and give direction but doesn’t stipulate the method to get there. It rather frees managers and employees to be creative, to innovate, to experiment and even to take risks within reasonable bounds. Knowing the “big picture”, grasping the essence of the organisational passion, and understanding how a given role contributes to the organisational goals gives staff clarity and an understanding of job expectations. Team spirit is built around what needs to be done and a sense of pride in and ownership of the vision grows steadily amongst the employees.

In this new envisioned environment, one that has been cultivated around a fresh organisational quest, staff retention (of hopefully the most valued employees) grows, performance gets enhanced and cultural commitment, and a sense of belonging is engendered. It is this environment where ideas and other creative forms come to the fore and discretionary effort is willingly offered. Here, communication bridges job levels, as commitment to the achievement of the vision becomes the overriding motivator.

Visionary leadership must be lived with passion to grow the culture towards achieving organisational success. Emotional intelligence needs to be intact within the leader to be able to share the specific vision with impact – transparency (regarding motive), self-confidence, self-awareness and empathy are key characteristics in articulating a purpose that not only rings true of oneself, but also resonates within the entire staff complement. As Peter Senge says: “It’s not what the vision is, it’s what the vision does.”

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