The Visionary Leader: Belief in a Great and Noble Future
Perhaps the most universal principle of leadership in both classical and contemporary literature is the visionary quality of great leaders. Too much has been made of personality tests that constrain people to a particular mode of thinking – “you are a big picture thinker,” or “you are a great analyst and detail person,” or “you are a great people person – you can read a person a mile away,” or “you are a very practical person – you sure know how to fix a car and even a dishwasher.”
There is some wisdom to these categorizations of personality and thought, but they should not be used to restrict visionary and opportunity seeking ability. All people possess this ability because it is a function of creative imagination and desire to achieve a particular goal. Perhaps the order of these characteristics should be reversed. If people cultivate within themselves a desire for a particular set of goals – if they want to achieve those goals with all their heart – then something quite remarkable happens within the human consciousness – we engage our creative imaginations.
We begin to imagine what we desire and what the fulfillment of those desires and goals would be like, and then we begin to picture the path to getting to those goals. In fact, our desire and imagination can be so strongly infused with one another, that we can begin to daydream and even night dream about the path to those goals. When the imagination is freely engaged in the pursuit of a desire, we tend to take off our mind’s straightjacket and a kind of serendipity and excitement takes over. Everything around us turns into a clue or an opportunity for creating the path to the goal. Somebody may say something in a meeting, and you will suddenly realize its importance in your plan; you see a particular person, and it suddenly dawns on you that she would be indispensable on your team; you discover that a technique you have known about for ten years will be really useful in getting you to the goal – as if it emerged from a kind of shadow world in your consciousness.
When your creative imagination is infused with the desire to reach the goal, you begin to assemble the clues, through deliberate thought, day dreams, night dreams, and every other means, and one day the synthetic element – the lines between the dots become visible to your mind. “Eureka!” – I have found it!”
The amazing thing about visionary leaders, is that they do not stop at the eureka moment. They seem to remain hyper open to additional opportunities that will improve the plan or add a further dimension to the plan -- or even an additional horizon to the plan. If a leader’s associates are not engaged in their creative imaginations, they will view the leader as very “squirrelly” -- “you’re always coming up with something new before we can get the plan implemented,” or “you are always changing the plan before we can get it started. What’s the matter with you, stick to the plan.”
Despite this obvious drawback, the visionary leader will eventually craft a very good plan, through a multiplicity of modifications and very crooked paths, but the organization can be assured of one thing – if the leader is operating out of noble motives, if his or her genuine desire is to advance the organization and its stakeholders, that is, if his or her motives are pure, the organization and its stakeholders will have a master plan which is optimally opportunity seeking and creative. It may be messy and the details may not all be worked out, but the plan and its potential horizons will be great.
By Fr. Robert J. Spitzer. Reprinted from Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life