Great Leadership The Visionary

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series Understanding Great Leadership


In this series of articles on great leadership we have looked at the Uber Boss so far.  Today we are going to start examining the Visionary leader and identify just some of the strengths and weakness of this type of leadership.  Great leaders are sometimes born and sometimes made.  Regardless you can learn an enormous amount about how to become a great, inspired and inspiring leader by studying the topic thoroughly.

With that in mind here’s quick review of the strengths and weaknesses of the “Uber Boss/ Dictator and Sometimes Executioner” Probably the simplest message is this “Might isn’t necessarily right, good, useful or all that helpful”. In fact the seductive powers of “POWER” tend to mean the mighty risk becoming heavy handed at the least or completely destructive at worst, when dealing with the people they lead.  Often to coin a cliche “Power Corrupts” they risk becoming self interested and blind to the harm they are doing because they are overly confident in their own sense of rightness.

The problems that result from the heavy handed use of power and authority abound in modern organisations. From destroying morale to driving the talent away, from leading the company into poorly considered direction,  to being the reason staff fail to invest their minds and initiative into the leaders plans.  This kind of troubled leadership is a major cause of poor engagement and low productivity. What are the chances of high levels of synchronicity, productivity and flow if the leadership ruins morale, makes the staff anxious and apprehensive and destroys initiative?  Not good I would guess!

The Problem isn’t the Use of Power

Now just to make my point a little more complex, the use of power and authority to get things done isn’t necessarily bad.  Power and authority used unwisely (and it should be used sparingly at the most) are likely to cause more problems than they fix.

The real question is what’s optimal in any given situation?  In other words what is the best way to create the greatest benefits for the most number of people using the least resources.  Use effective use of power must be based on the concept of optimal effectiveness, that is optimal intentions supported by optimal strategies.  Anything else is going to be self limiting.

What’s more their is a direct relationship between aggressive, dismissive, coercive leadership and frustration, anger and resentment within the workforce. With that in mind there is a direct relationship between dictatorial leadership and the organization failing to thrive.  When the morale of the organisation starts to decline staff engagement also declines. Talent starts to leave in droves.  It is a naive leader who ignores the signs of declining mood within a company.  You only have to do a survey of the history of the world to see the effects of Monarchistic Dictatorships on Nations.  Yes dictators can get things done, but are they getting them done in the most optimal way possible?  There are some examples where this might seem to be not the case but that centralised power gets things done.  We’ll look at that question in the next post.

It would be interesting to see the responses to a survey if you asked the people you lead whether your leaders are overly bullish or even unhelpfully aggressive and coercive. Why don’t you take the temperature of your organisation.  Test the levels of satisfaction and anger, frustration and resentment within your organisation. It would be very useful to know wouldn’t it?  You might even find the answers to why things aren’t working as well as they could.

Centralized Power Isn’t the Problem

In short power isn’t the problem its the intentions and strategies behind the use of power see it being useful or harmful.  To curb the potential for harm of this kind of leadership it is important to base the leadership strategy, goals on optimal intentions.

The Messiah, Visionary, Trailblazer, Bringer of Hope Type Leader

So lets put the Uber Boss question to bed for now and move on to the opposite pole of the leadership continuum. At the opposite pole from dictator on leadership scale is the Messiah, Trail Blazer, Visionary, Bringer of hope (and innovation) or the Viz for short as in Visionary. By the way, sorry about the religious inference but this metaphor fits my point. I’ll explain about the the whole religious overtones in the next post.  But for now lets have a look at the strengths of this type of leadership. The type of leadership that sees an individual leading from the front not whipping from the back.

The Cardinal Differences

If the Monarchistic/Uber Boss is characterised by the use of coercion and threat, divide and conquer, disrupt and dispute, to inspire fear and compel people to get things done the Visionary/ Bringer of Hope and Innovative leader is characterised by the use of promise, persuasion and hope, bringing people together in unity behind the vision, value adding to inspire a following,(read internal coms and messaging) and the provision of clear directions and answers.

Strengths, Weaknesses and Limitations

Key Strengths

Inspiration and hope coupled with a believable seeable and doable plan especially; in the presence of great answers to difficult questions; is a highly effective and efficient means of focusing and organising human resources.

The use of oratory, speech making, inspiring communications as a means of drawing attention to and focusing investment in a cause (or a project) is vastly less expensive in terms of resources than the use of threat and intimidation, disapproval and any other coercive, controlling or manipulative strategies. How you inspire engagement is to make sure your vision adds value to the most number of people. Just as a sidebar, here’s a hot tip to take away and consider, the V in vision should stand for Value adding, not just pictures in your head.

Inspiring is cheaper, quicker and has secondary benefits

Inspiring engagement is not only cheaper and quicker, it uplifts the mood and morale of the people who buy in and who see the vision and the hope.  Organisations who are able to tap into the desire of humans to be improve their own lives whilst also being involved in bringing something good into the world, are able to utilise the initiative of those people.  What’s more if the vision actually enhances the fulfilment of the workforce both directly and indirectly they will work harder because they benefit from realising the vision.

Look at all the inspirational speeches of the various key politicians during the Second World War Churchill’s “We will fight them on the beaches….” speech for example, and you can see how words have the power to harness and focus the creative power of people.  Inspiration can make people do very hard things that fear wont.  People will go the extra mile for something they believe in and they’ll go even further if they benefit from their efforts over and above just being paid.  Why you might ask?  Well that’s simple enough to answer;  the human species loves to aspire to better things both for themselves.  There is also a very large percentage of the population who will invest in ideas that help others achieve their aspirations and fulfill their dreams.

Visionary Leaders Derive Authentic Power and Authority

Another often overlooked reason why inspiration, vision, bringing of hope works more effectively both nationally and commercially, is in the understanding of where a leader derives it’s power from.  We will be looking at the question of authority and power in one of the following posts but for now you need to understand that the power of a leader comes from their ability to organise the human resource.  If they fail at this task they cannot lead effectively.  You can organize that resource through fear and intimidation, but it’s easier to do it through vision and hope.

Confidence Creates Authority

Visionary leaders particularly the ones who are involved at the coal face, and who deliver results gain authority to lead from the fact that the followers not only believe in the vision but they have high confidence that the vision is good and that they will benefit if the vision is realised.

In short the authentic power and authority of the leader rests not only in the power of the leader to articulate their vision but in the confidence that the followers have that the vision is good and that it can be realised.  Look at Gandhi, look at Nelson Mandela in the world of Global Visionaries.  Look at Skype founded by founded by Dane, Janus Friss and Swede Niklas Zennstrom.  Look at Linux created by Linus Torvalds, or the internet itself.

The Visionary Has Limitations Too

In all honesty the benefits of Leading from the front and inspiring engagement goes far beyond the scope of this post.  However if I summarise the key benefits of The Viz, over the Dictatorial Uber Boss, it would read something like this, leading people toward better future is more effective than the use of fear and threats and intimidation, or simple bullying.  One of the main reasons is people don’t like to be bullied and pushed, but they do like to be given hope, empowerment and guidance for a better future.

It’s also simply more efficient to lead through vision because you don’t have to waste time, energy and resources forcing and compelling engagement.  You don’t have to spend so much time supervising and regulating the workforce.  People invest willingly because they want to see the vision realised.

What’s more as you create a better future the organization’s power to do more grows and has the power to grow exponentially. Look at the internet, look at Google, look at unlimited potential of clean energy to change the world.  Whilst in the case of Bully Inc the drags caused by having to control, manipulate, coerce, and bully the followers often, eventually exceeds the benefits.

There are some seemingly notable exceptions however in both in the Geopolitical world and the Corporate world.  In each of these cases the most exceptional feature was that the leadership though centralized and unwavering, made the world better for the people who followed the vision.

Singapore is a great example, whether you believe the government of Singapore was or was not a dictatorship or just uncompromisingly strong is irrelevant.  It was a very strong, centralised system that fundamentally worked because it fundamentally delivered on the promise of a better future for the population.

Whilst not a dictator Steve Jobs had a reputation for being demanding and relentless in the pursuit of his personal vision of his standard.  However with this in mind he still drove Apple to the top of the game, which not only benefited him, the people who work at apple and the world at large, the Iphone drove phone tech in a direction it may never have gone without his vision.  Could he have done the same thing with a nicer more persuasive strategy? Probably.  In any case the world at large has bought the Apple vision and want to see it realised and go as far as it can possibly go.

To be balanced and fair Visionary leadership also comes with some very significant problems and limitations ranging from personality disorders through to the attraction of envy from the non-followers. In the next blog we will look at some of those issues.



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