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The Visionary Leader in a Premodern Organizational Context

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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 some day 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leader who often feels devalued by the next generation—it is also the visionary leader who holds a vision that is now out-of-date and whose accomplishments on behalf of this vision are no longer fully appreciated.

Third, the statement of vision must be coupled with a statement of mission. Whenever a leaders creates a vision of the future, it must be coupled with a clear commitment to something that is not about the future, or even exclusively about the present—it must be coupled with an enduring sense of mission. What do we do as a family, clan, organization, or social system that remains fundamental and unchanged? That is a key to our survival. We must always look toward the future and toward change through the lens of foundations and continuity. What is our “business” and how does our vision for the future relate to this business.

The fourth criterion concerns the relationship between vision and values. How does our vision of the future relate to the fundamental values of this family, clan, organization or social system? What will and what won’t we do in order to realize our dream for the future? Martin Luther King not only offered us a dream, he also insisted that this dream be realized through a set of values based on nonviolence. Similarly, Lincoln’s statement of gratitude for the sacrifice made at Gettysburg is based on his firm commitment to preservation of the union. The “ends” (vision) never justify the use of inappropriate or unethical “means” (values).

Fifth, the vision statement should relate to some formally identified sense of purpose: what difference does our family, clan, organization or social system make in the life of people dwelling in this community, country or world. What social purpose are we serving and how does this purpose relate to our vision of the future? Our vision can be self-serving or even profoundly destructive with regard to social purpose (as in the case of Hitler’s vision). It is important that vision be aligned with a fundamental social purpose.

Thus, while a vision statement will change over time (and, as we shall see later, must change over time), the mission, values and social purposes tend not to change or change very slowly. While the vision is the wind in the sails that propels a vessel, the mission, values and social purposes provide the anchor and keel that keep the ship properly aligned (and afloat). Furthermore, even though a compelling vision statement may come out of the mouth of a premodern visionary leader, it ultimately requires collaboration and appreciation if the vision is to be truly owned by those who must enact this vision.

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