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The Visionary Leader in a Premodern Organizational Context

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Several conclusions regarding appropriate time and place can be extracted from these five criteria. First, the vision statement should be offered alongside clearly articulated statements regarding mission, values and purposes. These four dimensions of what I label the “intentions” of an organization are tightly interwoven and modifications in one will inevitably impact on the other three. So, one must have his or her “ducks-in-order” with regard to an overall statement of intentions (a “charter” if you will), when articulating a compelling vision. The vision itself should build on many conversations, the sharing of stories (not just the visionary leader’s stories) and the identification of moments of “greatness” in the past history and present realities of the organization. Visions come alive and help guide an organization when they are generated and articulated under these conditions (place and time).

The Challenge of Premodern Visionary Leadership

If a vision is generated that is compelling, what do we do about it? We must do more than applaud the visionary speech-giver. We must do more than walk away, inspired to do good –for at least a day or week. So-called “motivational” speakers provide a welcome respite from the daily grind, but they rarely have along term impact. The neurosciences offer an important clue in this regard. Recent research regarding the hormonal system in the human body points to the important role played not just by adrenaline (which plays a key role in courageous leadership focus on fighting and fleeing from the enemy), but also by oxytocin, a hormone that brings us closes together rather than leads us to fight or flee. Oxytocin is a “bonding” agency. It is critical to the production of love and hope in human beings. It is the hormone that surges in women (and even in men) when a child is about to be born. It is the primary physiological ingredient which turns (to use Martin Buber’s phrase) an “I-It” relationship into an “I-Thou” relationship.

I would propose that oxytocin is also critical to the sustained engagement with a compelling vision. While adrenaline may surge after a stirring (and visionary) speech, it is the bonding power of oxytocin that motivates people to build on a vision through collaboration and community. Thus, the neurosciences are teaching us that premodern leaders of vision must not just excite people—they must also “bond” people to the new vision. In another publication I write about the “triangulation” that is required for a vision to be sustained. By this I mean that it is not just enough for two people to work together—a third element must be present if the working relationship is to be sustained. This third element is a shared vision (linked to a shared mission, set of values and compelling social purpose). The “I-Thou” conception offered by Martin Buber provides us with guidance in this matter. According to Buber (a Jewish theologian), the “I-Thou” exists through God’s grace—God being the third element.

Similarly, the Greek word “agape” refers not just to mankind’s relationship to some deity. It also relates to the ways in which we treat and care for other people on behalf of our religious beliefs. In the 21st Century, we need not focus on the relationship between humankind and a deity. We can focus instead on ways in which relationships are enhanced and sustained (“I-Thou”) when these relationships are founded on a shared vision—when oxytocin is produced to bind people together and bind people to an organization and its vision (as well as it’s mission, values and purposes). This is the key to enactment of a vision. It must induce a sense of community and shared commitment—hence can not just be the product of one person’s sense of the future.

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