Looking to the future: how to be a visionary leader

Looking to the future: how to be a visionary leader

The recent passing of Nelson Mandela, one of the world’s most respected leaders, is a sound reminder of how one person with a worthwhile vision can make a huge difference.

Nelson Mandela is an extraordinary example of a visionary leader. Madiba, as he was fondly referred to, faced the seemingly impossible – 27 years in prison, a price he paid to bring about the end of apartheid in South Africa. He was renowned for his endurance and his commitment to seeing his vision through.

There are many lessons to be learnt from leaders, like Nelson Mandela, who hold a strong vision for the future and have the courage to act in accordance with that vision.

In business, visionary leaders such as Richard Branson (Virgin) or Elon Musk (Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and previously PayPal) demonstrate some key capabilities as visionary leaders. For example, they have an excellent understanding of the big picture, are creative and innovative in the way they think and communicate, and are able to balance short-term needs with long-term objectives.

These inspiring, creative and risk-taking leaders set the tone for the culture in an organisation; encouraging others to think big and to embrace creativity and innovation. They support people and teams to feel engaged with the organisational vision and engender a sense of ownership.

While most leaders understand that enacting the organisational vision is important, in the rush to get things done and react to immediate challenges, defining and moving towards this vision can become a lesser priority.

By reframing their perspective, which includes having the courage to challenge their inner beliefs and assumptions, and by continuously developing key leadership skills, all leaders can tap the potential of becoming visionary leaders.

So, how can leaders achieve visionary leadership?

Define the organisational vision

A strong organisational vision provides a clear road map for an organisation’s future.

Forward thinking and aspirational, an organisational vision defines where an organisation wants to be in the mid- to long-term. A sound vision will clearly establish what the organisation is looking to achieve and accomplish, and drive current and future action.

A great vision not only defines the direction, it also includes an enduring purpose about why it matters and importantly aligns with shared organisational values.

The role of a visionary leader is to define and articulate the organisational vision and purpose. While the process of formulating the vision is ideally a collaborative one, the leader plays a key role in guiding the journey and holding themselves and others to account.

Unlock a visionary company culture

Visionary leaders cultivate a company culture that strengthens the organisational vision.

To unlock a vision-focused culture, the organisational vision must become a core part of the organisation’s identity. It needs to be meaningful and engaging, communicated widely and often, and built into KPIs and performance reviews. The vision must become part of the everyday conversations in teams at all levels – some of these conversations may be courageously robust.

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