Thursday, September 6, 2007

Act with vision - the Vision of Quiet Leadership

Leadership requires vision. Theodore M. Hesburgh, the former president of Notre Dame University says, "The very essence of leadership is you have to have a vision."

My developing manifesto on Quiet Leadership encourages leaders to "Act with vision." In this context vision requires additional definition. How would a quiet leader define the vision required of leaders.

If you review the "textbook" definitions of vision no single definition seems to relate to leadership. Here are definitions courtesy of Merriam-Webster online:

  • something seen in a dream, trance, or ecstasy

  • a manifestation to the senses of something immaterial

  • the act or power of seeing

  • direct mystical awareness of the supernatural usually in visible form

So what is vision's link to leadership and how about quiet leadership?

I'd like to offer two views of leadership vision that that draw out the essential ingredients to "Act with vision." My two definitions are 1) forward-looking vision and 2) awareness.

Forward-looking Vision

Many authors and experts, when describing the link between vision and leadership, will refer to strategic or forward looking vision. A leader must be a visionary. A leader's role is to define a mission or cause. A leader must be forward looking.

Picture Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. calling out, "I have a dream" and this definition becomes clear. Stephen Covey in his book The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness talks about vision as "seeing with the minds' eye what is possible in people, in projects, in causes and in enterprises. Vision results when our minds joins need with possibility"

The research of Posner and Kouzes, as the basis for their best seller, The Leadership Challenge, 3rd Edition position this strategic "forward looking" vision as a key character that is universally expected of leaders. Forward looking vision is simply expected of leaders.

Forward-looking vision also links to a key skill of problems solvers, the ability to visualize solutions and models. Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization describes this vision as the pictures or images that influence how we understand the word and how we take action.

In the book Einstein: His Life and Universe, author Walter Isaacson suggests that Einstein's ability to construct thought experiments might have been the key to his insight. Many of Einstein's theories were the result of thought experiments, that is, the production of Einstein's mental laboratory. Einstein's vision may represent the ultimate in problem-solving vision.

Problem-solving vision is also the type of vision that Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People proposes when he encourages effective people to "begin with the end in mind."


My second view of vision for quiet leaders is awareness. I associate this form of vision as the vision that is described when a television football analyst suggests that a successful running back has good vision. This is interpreted to mean that the player has awareness of the position of teammates and defenders, and blocking opportunities. The running back has the ability to see emerging holes in the defense.

Leaders need the same type of awareness, i.e. an awareness of people, skills, processes, work, and opportunities that surround the leader. A good leader is mindful of the organizational relationships and politics. An effective leader should be aware and mindful of the world around.

In the book
Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion, authors Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee state,

When we are mindful, we are more in control of ourselves and
situations simply because we see reality more clearly

Self awareness also applies. The ancient Greek aphorism, "Know Thyself" sets the stage for leadership. Leadership guru Warren Bennis starts his definition of leadership with "Leadership is a function of knowing yourself"

Act with Vision

The Lead Quietly manifesto (a work in progress) will propose that leaders should "Act with vision." In this context, leaders should act with forward looking purpose, act with awareness of events around and within and begin with the end in mind.

Thanks for reading. Act with vision. Please lead quietly


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