Visionary leadership is transformative. It involves
greatness, penetrating the ordinary to arrive at a new land, reaching
through time to bring out the best the world has to offer. Such a
leader anticipates events, influences the future, and enables people to
This means perceiving challenges and growth opportunities before they
happen while positioning to produce extraordinary results that make a real contribution.
This kind of leadership requires total involvement, tremendous work, a
willingness to put everything on the line and continuous engagement.
Visionaries often suffer opposition from all sides. Yet, the payoff
includes the personal reward that comes from making a genuine and
substantive contribution to humanity.
For example, in the fall of 1997 I first heard about the
Development Framework from Jim Wolfensohn, president of the
World Bank. His inspirational idea pulled together concepts from many
disciplines and laid out a framework for the effective alleviation of
global poverty – no small task.
He called for a holistic approach that put social concerns on equal footing with
economic issues and, most importantly, put each country in charge of its own
Though many heralded these new ideas, they initially received criticism
from all corners: denounced as a turn away from the necessary, hard
line economic approach. Yet, today this framework has been embraced on
a global scale and is often the reference for the creation of new
policies addressing poverty.
Leaders not only have a clear idea of what is possible, they are
involved in bringing it about. Mahatma Ghandi did more than recognize
the value of religious tolerance and sovereignty for the people of
India, he used his life to make it possible. Ghandi drew on everything
to instigate the changes he was seeking: his diet, his clothing, his
community, and his speech. When a reporter asked him to state his
message for the world, Ghandi replied, “My life is my message.”
Martin Luther King, Jr, did more than have a dream of racial equality
in the United States, he advanced civil rights through a critical
juncture in American history. People who foresee great potential can
exert their influence and bring about profound changes in the ways
people live and work together for the benefit of all humanity.
Qualities that enable this kind of broad impact include imagination,
engagement, tangible results, and penetrating self-reflection.
A strong imagination is needed to envision the future with clarity.
This makes it possible for all who share the dreaming to know the
courses of action to be taken.
Visionaries do not
shirk from the overwhelming complexity of the world; instead they
engage society with its competing, divergent viewpoints.
In order to marshal the best possible chance of success they seek to
communicate effectively: sharing and listening, building their
knowledge through collaboration.
Through their personal yearning to make a lasting, social contribution,
they put in the time, energy and attention necessary to generate
tangible results. They give everything to bring out their best, often
plunging their personal depths to build from within. It is from this
precious resource, the inner world, which greatness emerges.