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Addressing the Irony: Three Styles of Leadership

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Given that visionary leadership is dependent on the right place and the right time, it is also important that the vision is articulated at the right time and in the right place. While Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address still appeals to us today, it is profound in large part because it was given at a commemoration ceremony for those soldiers who died during the bloody battle at Gettysburg. Lincoln is literally “consecrating” the ground where these young men were buried. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech was similarly given on a particularly auspicious occasion (a major civil rights march on Washington D.C.) and at a very patriotic location (facing the Lincoln Memorial). The visionary leader must pick the special time and place when offering a visionary statement.

Where and when does the visionary leader find this special place and time? This is a critical decision. I propose that there are five primary criteria with regard to the nature of an effective statement of vision. These five criteria tell us something about when and where we should offer a vision. I will first briefly identify these criteria and then suggest how these criteria help us identify an appropriate time and place for vision.

First, any statement of vision must be created and sustained by an entire social system—not just its leader(s). Collaboration is just as important when formulating a vision, as it is when assembling an army as a courageous (style two) leader. Second, the vision statement must be offered within a context of appreciation for past accomplishments and present-day contributions. All too often the visionary leader (especially if new to this role) will ignore or offer a critical perspective on past achievements rather than honoring these achievements and seeking to learn from them. We must always remember that someday in the near future, we will be the relics of the past and may be overlooked by the next generation. It is not just the wise leader who often feels devalued by the next generation—it is also the visionary leader who holds a vision that is now out-of-date and whose accomplishments on behalf of this vision are no longer fully appreciated.

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