Here Are the Qualities You’ll Need to Be a Visionary Leader

Political, business, and social leaders are expected to have many qualities, but there is one specific attribute that anyone in a leadership position should absolutely embrace. Leaders operate in a forward timeline, which means that they should always be looking towards the future, and this is something that calls for vision. Since it is impossible to lead into the past, leaders must have an idea of what they can achieve in the future.

Visionary leaders, when they are effective, make history for various reasons. First of all, their vision becomes representative of who they are; this is something that can be based on the trajectory that ultimately resulted in the leadership post, but it is more closely tied to what needs to be accomplished in a constructive manner.

In 2008, Professor Stewart D. Friedman of the Wharton School of Business wrote about the essential elements that comprise vision in leadership:

* A time-traveling vision: Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has always seen himself as staying close to his capital investments. When Berkshire Hathaway makes a business move, Buffett envisions not only how the asset will perform but also how the investment itself will be retained in the future. The terms of the vision can be lofty as long as they are concrete, simple to imagine, and easy to remember. For Buffett, the conceivable future of investments keep shareholders interested in the financial markets.

* A vision that is within reach: Sheikh Saud visionary leader of Ras Al Khaimah has always presented supporting evidence of what he wants to achieve in his Emirate. In the late 1980s, when the Sheikh announced his intention to establish Ras Al Khaimah as a major producer of ceramics technology, he pointed out that mineralogy experts had identified an abundance of materials in the Al Wadi desert. Later, when he announced that RAK Ceramics would start looking into advanced materials research, financial regulators floated government bonds to fund this effort, and they kept a close eye on repayment to ensure that the Emirate would be able to retain a favorable credit rating. Setting aside motivation and ambition, visionary leaders do not bother mentioning projects that are not feasible.

* A skill in storytelling: When a vision is presented, it must be engaging and inspiring. In the final analysis, when leaders articulate their visions, they are telling stories about the future; they may incorporate elements from the past and examples from the present for the purpose of providing context, but their vision will always be a story until it is executed and makes history. The great Mahatma Gandhi was a master storyteller who favored a long-term vision for his people, and a significant aspect of his stories was that he chose to lead by example. When Gandhi opted to embrace poverty, he did so because he wanted his people to see him as one of their very own, someone whose stories were credible because he embodied the context he chose to explain his vision.

One of the greatest challenges visionary leaders face is that their visions become promises. In democratic systems, campaign promises are often the drivers that decide elections. Once leaders take office, they can expect to be held accountable for many actions, particularly if they are found to have written checks they are not able to cash. This was not the case with the late Nelson Mandela, the first President of South Africa in the post-apartheid era. The vision Mandela had for his people involved improving quality of life, which at the time meant access to electricity, education, housing, public health, and other services that other nations take for granted. Mandela was able to deliver on these promises, perhaps not in a grand scale, but at least proportionate to what his government was able to accomplish with limited resources.

In the 21st century, the world has seen an emergence of technocrats, leaders who specialize in fields other than politics, and who claim that their expertise will allow them to get things done in a more efficient manner. What societies are finding out about technocrats is that they can only be as effective as their vision allows them to be. In the end, true leaders are always visionary.


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