Vision gives birth to purpose and purpose inevitably brings results and helps the leader chart a course for the people, a road-map and milestones to guide the way. Real vision and true visionaries can lift us out of the muck and mire into the higher realms of human potential and possibility.
To be a visionary, regardless of the era in which we live, is to envision another possibility. The visionary, in some way, spreads the seeds of that vision and possibilities so that they might take root in others and find their way into our common reality. He might write or speak out, create a new type of product or company, express a vision artistically, or find another avenue of expression. These are all just means for spreading the vision. A true visionary walks the line and often challenging line between the inspired world and the material world of action, effects, systems, powerful special interests, ego, status quo, and tangible results. The visionary is like a conduit between those two dimensions of higher thought and physical reality. He must connect with a source of inspiration and courage that emboldens him to let a specific vision “speak out through him” even though others might disagree, since an illuminating vision often casts light on current imperfections, arousing the ire of the protectors of the status quo. He is the one who, in trust or faith, leads the way along a new road, though he himself may not see but a few steps ahead into the unknown.
The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision, as a man who is blind cannot lead other people. The real challenge of leadership is that a leader must know where he is going; otherwise he cannot take people there. According to Theodore M. Hesburgh, you can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.
The visionary leader perseveres, usually through a wide variety of challenges, uncertainties, personal short-comings, and setbacks; taking his place among fellow visionaries who sow vision seeds of individual and collective potential. Great leaders are usually people who have had their fair share of moral and personal failures. But the difference is that they do not despair or allow those failures to stop them. They move against opposition with the belief that what is conceivable is achievable. They understand that there is no excuse that is good enough to give as a reason for failure and that human weakness is common to all mortals. This understanding propels them to go ahead, take giant strides and accomplish extra-ordinary feats.
A great leader is also able to see the big picture, something that others may not see at the time. Another way to explain vision is to see it as a dream, which is very important especially in today’s highly volatile business environment. Martin Luther King Jnr., one of the most revered leaders of all time declared in his most famous speech “I have a dream” that one day, the Negro will be emancipated. John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America had a vision in 1960 that America would place a man on the moon by 1970 – this vision completely galvanised a nation! The truth is that once a leader can genuinely present a picture of something that the people can resonate with, they will be responsive to it. The reason is because it is meaningful and unifies the seemingly disparate elements of their experience. It is also very vital that the vision of the leader is in agreement with the overall strategy and policy of the organisation; otherwise it may be difficult to follow through, as the leader needs people to execute his vision.
Visionary leaders are natural pioneers and are not afraid to tread an unpopular route. Instead, they use such opportunities to transform their beliefs into philosophies and a way of life. The great leaders that we know and revere today only became great because they were not afraid or ashamed to be different or to start in a small way. This is the same reason why engineers do not start to build a sky scraper from the roof. All the great leaders we know today must have seen the big picture but realised that great things do not always start great. The only thing they had in common is their implicit belief in the impossible and the fact that if we press hard enough and remain consistent in our pursuit, a man can realise his greatest potential and change his destiny forever.