Home Concepts The Visionary Leader in a Premodern Organizational Context

The Visionary Leader in a Premodern Organizational Context

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There is a premodern leadership style that is revered by some people and vigorously criticized by others. This premodern style is founded on VISION. A person is assigned this third form of leadership because he or she can articulate a vision of the future that is persuasive and motivating. This person is assigned a leadership role not only because he or she is articulate and persuasive, but also because the people he or she is leading “hunger” for a dream or image of an alternative reality that will either help them build a game plan for getting out of the current reality or will enable them to be distracted from their current reality.

Alexander the Great is a vivid personification of premodern leadership. He exemplifies not only the premodern characteristics of wisdom and courage but also vision—he had everything going for him. Alexander was truly a “visionary” and coupled this vision with the wisdom he had acquired as a student of Aristotle and as the son of Phillip of Macedonia with the courage and competence he displayed as a great warrior. His vision was to conquer and “civilize” the Mideast and Asia. Like many of his fellow-citizens in the Grecian world, Alexander was apparently quite arrogant about the “advanced” state of Greece (when compared to the rest of the world) and quite patronizing with regard to his “responsibility” to make the rest of the world more like Greece. As is the case with many contemporary leaders in the Western World, Alexander offered a vision that was quite biased and xenophobic: “we are the best and will bring all other people, even if by force, to our state of advancement.” Visions are not always beneficial to the world—Hitler being a prime example of a premodern visionary leader who was articulate and compelling in offering his people a vision of genocide and world dominance.

Leadership at the Right Time and Place

While premodern leadership that builds on wisdom usually comes with a prestigious education, and courageous leaders receive training that prepares them to fight against the enemy, the visionary leader is someone who may not have much of an education or much training—but who is in the right place at the right time to offer a vision of the future. In fact, the visionary leader often comes to leadership with minimal preparation. His or her compelling vision often comes with a story of personal triumph over adversity and discrimination. Visionary leaders like Abraham Lincoln or Joan-of-Arc often were born in poverty and are self-taught. Other visionary leaders such as Susan B. Anthony (and the other Seneca Falls advocates for women’s rights) and Martin Luther King (and the other civil rights leaders of the 1960s) grew up in a world that discriminated against them (or at least against other people “of their kind”). Visionary leaders such as Frederick Douglass offer even more compelling story of being born into slavery and escaping to freedom.

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