Archives For Leadership Series

“There is no more powerful engine driving an organization toward excellence and long-range success than an attractive, worthwhile, and achievable vision of the future, widely shared.”

~ Burt Nanus, Visionary Leadership

Merriam Webster dictionary defines visionary, in relation to leadership, as: having or marked by foresight and imagination, a visionary leader, a visionary invention, able or likely to see visions.

Burt Nanus in Visionary Leadership stated that visionary leadership was in short supply today, and that was published in 1992, I think for the most part, it’s still in short supply in 2018. Who are today’s visionary leaders that can match the visions of history’s leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. What leaders today, either public or private, is pursuing what seems to be impossible? Is their visionary talent natural, Divine Guidance, or can leaders learn how to be more visionary?

First, vision starts with a dream, or an actual vision. Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla, developed his visions from the hours of research he puts towards a subject. What makes his visionary skills unique is that he can imagine his designs in 3D, and make changes in his mind, and he has a photographic memory.  Elon Musk’s dream is to populate Mars, and he risks his fortune, health, and relationships, in order to achieve his dream.

America’s Founding Fathers had a dream of liberty, they were angry about Great Britain’s repression. They pursued their dream of liberty, or maybe it was Divine Guidance to practice the religion of their choice. They signed the Declaration of Independence knowing that if the United States lost the Revolutionary War, they would either be executed or imprisoned as traitors to the Queen.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta built her Missionaries of Charity through a vision she said she received from Jesus Christ. She believed in her vision so much that whenever she would pray for something it would materialize in some way, she called it Divine Providence, with enough faith, anything is possible. That vision turned into a Roman Catholic religious congregation which had over 4,500 sisters and was active in 133 countries in 2012, and is still growing more than 20 years after her death.

Vision starts with connecting what is going on right now with what you, or an organization, aspire to accomplish. A vision is always about the future, but it begins with the here and now. In order to start with now, leaders need to take an honest look at their area  of responsibility and figure out where the gaps are that prevents you from moving toward the vision, and then start to fill the gaps. Just don’t let the gaps discourage you from developing a vision. And if you already have all of the resources needed to achieve your vision, then it’s not much of a vision, is it?

Burt Nanus in Visionary Leadership outlines how vision works in context to leadership. The right organizational vision, when communicated properly, will move people to action. But selecting and articulating the right vision, is the hardest task and the truest test of great leadership. But when casting the vision is done correctly it can unleash powerful forces within your organization. To understand why, consider the forces that are unleashed;

  • The right vision attracts commitment and energizes people. Do employees work toward the vision because they get paid to, or because they fully believe in it and pay doesn’t matter? If people only believe in the vision because they get paid to, will they actually give 100%, or even 70% to help achieve that vision? Organizations that inspire their employees to achieve something that helps the community or the world, will work harder to achieve it. It brings me back to Elon Musk, even though he has a very high authoritarian style of leadership, people still follow him because they believe in his vision. They’ll work 80+ hours a week and face demeaning reprimands if goals are not meet, because they want to be part of Elon Musk’s vision of building a colony on Mars with SpaceX, or decreasing the dependency on fossil fuels by building electric cars (my favorite is the Roadster) or solar panels with Tesla.
  • The right vision creates meaning in workers’ lives. Leaders who have a vision that will attract people with the same values because they find more meaning in their work. People will commit more to that vision if they find a higher purpose in what they do. How did Mother Teresa build such a large ministry, she had a vision that attracts followers who are looking for more meaning in their life. Organizations that have a compelling vision that gives their employees meaning for their work, will get employees to be more engaged, which means more productivity, and higher profits, or donations.
  • The right vision establishes a standard of excellence. How does your vision statement define the organizations standards? The vision needs to provide people with the ability to measure how they’re doing in comparison to the vision. The vision also provides stakeholders a way to evaluate the organization’s worth to the larger society. Elon Musk’s standard of excellence is high, he demands 100+% from his employees, if they need to work 80 hour weeks to meet a goal, then they better do it or have a valid reason why they didn’t, and what they plan to do to get it back on track.
  • The right vision bridges the present and future. When organizational leaders are forced to focus on daily operational commitments, the right vision helps them to link the present operational activities to the vision. When the vision is part of the organizations daily vocabulary, not only do the managers, but all employees, can see how their daily tasks contribute to the accomplishment of the vision. That is why it’s important for leaders to help their followers to understand how their daily work relates to the vision. It reminds me of when someone asked the NASA janitor back in the 1960’s what his job was and he responded, “It’s to put a man on the moon.” The janitor understood that if he didn’t do hthe best job he could, he would impact that vision.

When the leader of an organization develops an inspiring vision and communicates it with enthusiasm, followers are empowered to move toward achieving the vision. As Burt Nanus states, “Developing and promulgating such a vision is the highest calling and truest purpose of leadership, for people instinctively “follow the fellow who follows the dream.””

Visionary leaders fail when their vision doesn’t include other people, or the vision is more important than other people. Great achievements do not happen by just one person, but a group of people. You can read a number of success and failure stories on how leaders reach a high level of success, and then they lose it all due to a character flaw. When leaders lose their ability to influence followers, they lose the ability to achieve their vision.

What are the qualities and abilities of true visionary leaders?   Here’s a couple of bullet points I pulled out of the number of references I read. Visionary leaders must:

  • Create strategies that are “outside the box” of conventional thought.
  • Be willing to take initiative and stand for something they believe in.
  • Be ready to take the responsibility of leadership.
  • Be ready to accept criticism and doubt, even from those closest to them.
  • Anticipate change and be proactive.
  • Focus on opportunities, not problems.
  • Listen and learn from other points of view to fine tune the vision and develop action plans.
  • Give followers a sense of hope and confidence in achieving the vision.
  • Work to unite–rather than divide– people.
  • Create specific, achievable goals and initiate action.

The most effective visionary leaders are responsive to the real needs of people and helps them to design their own futures. They inspire people to be better than they already are and helps them to identify what Abraham Lincoln called, “the angels of their better nature.”  Visionary leaders have the ability to sense the deeper spiritual needs of followers and link their current demands to these deeper, often unspoken, need for purpose and meaning.

To top visionaries keep communicating their vision to create a strong energy field which turns the vision into physical reality. You need to energize people around the vision, the more people thinking about achieving it the more power, or energy, the vision gets.

An example of a visionary leader from my local community of Bismarck/Mandan ND is Sister Kathleen Atkinson. I reflect back to when I first heard talk about her vision in 2011. In 2012 she started Ministry on the Margins and it keeps growing. The vision starts with an idea to add value to others, and with enough passion, it grows.

How important is it to develop the skills to be a more visionary leader? The Forbes article, “If You Want To Be ‘CEO Material,’ Develop These 15 Traits,” states having a vision is number two on the list, right after passion. But of course, without a compelling vision, you wouldn’t have passion.

Is one of the reasons why employees are so disengaged at work because there isn’t a vision being communicated to give them meaning for their work? If all they’re doing is showing up to work for a paycheck, then they may not inspired to give 100%, maybe only 50%, just enough to stay out of trouble.

Is your organization pursuing its vision? Do the employees even know what the vision is? What I find surprising is when the top leaders don’t even know what it is. If leaders are unfamiliar with the vision, how do they make daily operational decisions that could either negatively, or positively impact the organization?

“Where there is no vision, the people shall perish.”

~ Proverbs 29:18

 

 

References

  1. Visionary Leadership, Burt Nanus
  2. The Leadership Experience, Richard L. Daft
  3. Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations, Bernard M. Bass
  4. Elon Musk, Ashlee Vance
  5. Mother Teresa In Her Own Words, Mother Teresa
  6. Visionary Leadership,”  The Center for Visionary Leadership
  7. “If You Want To Be ‘CEO Material,’ Develop These 15 Traits,”  Forbes Magazine

“Leaders and their followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation.”

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Servant Leadership

April 1, 2018 — Leave a comment

the leader transcends self-interest to serve the needs of others, help others grow, and provide opportunities for others to gain materially and emotionally.

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Leadership Theories

January 2, 2018 — Leave a comment

Leadership has been around since the beginning of the human species. In the bible it’s Adam and Eve, but we ask ourselves, who was the real leader in the Garden of Eden? Adam for following the guidelines, or Eve for taking the risk at a possible better future, even after severe warnings from the top leader. Whenever two or more people get together, eventually someone emerges as the leader, but why? I believe that leadership does start from within, we all have a motive for wanting to lead others. But we need to lead ourselves first, in order to lead others better.

The basic leadership process, as defined in The Leadership Experience by Richard L. Draft, is “an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes and outcomes that reflect their shared purposes.” If we dig into that statement deeper, we can understand why on average, only about 30 percent of workers are engaged at work. The leader doesn’t take the energy required to develop relationships in order to find a shared purpose with their employees, so they use more authoritarian styles of leadership. Did you ever have someone tell you that you had to do something because “they signed your paycheck,” and for some that may be enough.

The understanding of different types of leadership has expanded drastically in just the past century. Before the preindustrial and pre-bureaucratic era was the Great Man Theory. Only men were viewed as great leaders, they held the positions of power so they were viewed as the leaders. Of course there are always those outliers, we can all think of great woman leaders in history, but most where born into those leadership roles.

During the 1920’s, Leadership Trait Theory research started to look at what traits leaders consistently have that separates them from non-leaders and contributed the most to their success?  Leadership traits could be identified, but the researchers wanted to be able to predict leaders, or train individuals in those specific traits. The research couldn’t consistently identify specific traits between successful leaders, so ultimately the research failed. Traits alone do not make a great leader.

In the 1950’s researchers started to look at what leaders did, not who they are. Leadership Behavior Theory looked at the behavior of effective leaders to ineffective leaders, and how they behaved toward followers. The research showed that behaviors could be learned and practiced, even if it was unnatural for them, but with any type of behavior changes, we can always resort back to the more unproductive behavior or habit.

A personal insight for me, since I’ve been training leaders for over twenty years I see how some leaders adopt the appropriate leadership behaviors, but eventually resort back to more unproductive behaviors. Often I’ve wondered what I did wrong, why didn’t the training stick? I was even called into a Directors office once and asked what I’ve been teaching in the leadership classes because someone who went through a number of classes in the past, was struggling again as a leader. My answer was that when a leader adopts positive leadership behaviors they may resort back to their more natural leadership style, unless the positive behavior is consistently reinforced.

Leadership Contingency Theory looked at how leadership behaviors successfully impacted different situations, which is why it’s also called situational theory developed by Hersey and Blanchard (The Situational Leader). This theory emphasizes that leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum, different situations in different organizations with different people may take different leadership behaviors to reach a successful outcome.

Researchers didn’t start looking at Leadership Influence Theory until the early 1970’s, and continued to be the main focus until the early 1990’s. This was a period of economic globalization, when economic powerhouses started changing from large corporations to individual internet start-ups. The study of charismatic leadership showed that someone didn’t need a leadership position to influence others. Charismatic leaders influence people to change by effectively communicating an inspiring vision. Individuals started to look for more reason to work then a paycheck, what was their passion? The charismatic leader can cast the vision to get followers buy-in. The ability to lead others wasn’t dependent on someone’s position, but how you influence people. The team leadership concept emerged during this period and the individual with the most knowledge or influence in a specific area would take the lead.

“Leadership Is Influence, Nothing More, Nothing Less.”
~ John C. Mawell

Leadership Relational Theories started emerging in the late 1970’s, and focused on how leaders and followers interact and influence each other? Leadership is viewed as a relational process that engages all participants and enables them to help achieve the vision. Interpersonal relationships are seen as being the most important facet of leadership effectiveness. Two common leadership styles that emerged from relational theory is Servant Leadership and Transformational Leadership, both focus on building positive relationships to better influence others.

With the recent focus on relational leadership, the research turns toward the traits and behaviors of those individuals who build better relationships, and it’s generally woman, who some scholars claim to be better leaders. The Harvard Business Review article, Are Women Better Leaders than Men?” by Zenger and Folkman reported in a study they conducted on 7,280 leaders which showed that female leaders not only where more effective as leaders, but scored higher on 15 of the 16 leadership competencies.

What will emerge as the next leadership theory? If I was to guess, it would be self-leadership theory.  Currently if you Google “self-aware leadership” you’ll get close to 2,000 results, not many when you think about it, especially compared to “Servant Leadership” at almost 500,000 results. You influence others the way you’ve been influenced by others in the past, it’s a behavior that we develop, and sometimes it’s a negative behavior, and we need to ask ourselves why, what are we trying to protect?

I believe it comes down to satisfying our own ego, some leaders find pleasure when they succeed themselves, no problem with that as long as it’s not at the expense of others. Some find fulfillment in helping others succeed, they’ve already achieved the level of success they want and now their passion comes from helping others achieve their success. That would be called significance, when you’ve helped so many people achieve their own success that they value the relationship, and in turn will help you achieve your goals.  It reminds me of Zig Ziglar quote on how to achieve success, “Help enough people get what they want, and they’ll help you get what you want.”

How do you plan to help others get what they want in 2018?.

 

References

The Leadership Experience by Richard L. Draft,

The Center for Leadership Studies, http://situational.com/the-cls-difference/situational-leadership-what-we-do/

Leadership-Central.com, http://www.leadership-central.com/leadership-theories.html#axzz52qy6nXpn

Are Women Better Leaders than Men? By Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, Harvard Business Review, March 15, 2012. https://hbr.org/2012/03/a-study-in-leadership-women-do