At the start of this month, legendary American singer-songwriter, Johnny Nash passed away at the grand old age of 80. Arguably his most famous song was the 1972 reggae hit, I can See Clearly Now.
The lyrics included the assertion that ‘I can see all obstacles in my way…” It’s a lucky leader who can say the same. Being forewarned about trouble ahead offers leaders a swathe of advantages, not least a more comprehensive vision about the future and its potential obstacles and opportunities.
Vision is a very important part of leadership. Knowing
where you want your organisation, team and yourself to be in the future is
crucial if you are going to plan effectively and set realistic goals to help
you get where you want to go. Framing this vision correctly is equally
important. It must be linked to the
hopes and aspirations of those within the organisation and aligned to their own
values and understanding of the situation at hand. However, a leader’s vision
must also be managed in the context of the wider world, as any aspirations that
veer too wildly away from what can be reasonably achieved in the organisation’s
physical environment can lead to frustration and mismanaged expectations.
This time last year, the world was becoming aware of a virus appearing in the Wuhan region of China that was causing people to fall ill. Just twelve months later, the entire world has been affected by the resultant pandemic and threat to global health that is COVID-19. Few could have foreseen back in late 2019 the colossal impact that this pandemic has had on pretty much every single country, business sector and household in the world. We have all had to react quickly, reinvent plans, accept compromises and think on our feet about how to safeguard our future and continue to operate effectively in ‘the new normal’.
A lot of leadership is about looking to the future and reacting to events as, and preferably before, they crop up. Maintaining and communicating a strong vision is an essential tool of resilience in what is known as a VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). People look to strong leaders to tell them what to do at times like these and how to react to unexpected events; this is a key part of the role particularly when it comes to human resources management and looking after your team. People work more effectively when they feel more secure about what is happening and they part they need to play in it.
Looking beyond the initial situation is also a key part of
a leader’s vision in a VUCA environment. Being able to see ‘the bigger picture’
allows leaders to formulate plans, back-up plans and even back-up plans to
those back-up plans to offer a real, practical way ahead, rather than
speculation or rumour, which can often cause consternation in teams and lead to
gossip, uncertainty and instability. As many countries face the prospect of a
‘second spike’ in COVID-19 infections over the coming weeks, so a leader’s
vision must remain steadfast to offer reassurance, yet with room for compromise
and adjustment as the world reacts to changes around us. More easily said than
done, perhaps, but this should be the ultimate goal.
Follow my lead
In fact, a lot about leadership can be said to be ‘more easily said than done’, but that is what brings adrenaline, purpose and excitement to the role. A good leader inspires people to follow them through leading by example, not being afraid to get their hands dirty and displaying positive, admirable characteristics, such as honesty, gratitude, courage, passion and approachability.
They also tend to show excellent clarity of vision, showing
others what their chosen version of the future looks like and how they propose
to get there.
There’s a reason why inspirational speeches, such as Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ stick so stubbornly in
the memory. They lay out a clear,
persuasive and completely indisputable vision of what the speaker wants to accomplish
along with the firm belief that it is perfectly possible to achieve. The power
of the words and imagery used then leads others to want to strive for the same
vision and so a shared purpose is born.
New directions: new risks?
According to a 2008 online article from Harvard Business Review, a leader’s vision should comprise four key elements: a compelling story of the preferred future, a clear image that allows others to understand the vision and to work towards it alongside you, an achievable end-goal – even if it involves some hard work to get there – and a goal that is intended to be completed sometime in the future, but not so far ahead in time that it seems irrelevant to today’s mission and to-do list.
Taking a new direction and following a vision that looks very different to today’s picture is always daunting, yet it offers an individual and the wider organisation incredible potential to move with the times, embrace change and pursue brand new opportunities that can reap huge rewards further down the line. Leaders must not fear new directions, although taking a healthy view of the risks involved is always wise.
While change is rarely 100 per cent comfortable, 100 per cent of the time, it is essential to prevent stagnation of a business’ vision. Take climate change and the whole issue of sustainable living, for example. Many of the changes that need to take place in order to reduce the use of finite fossil fuels, for example, or to protect dwindling species and habitats will not make for easy living. Yet protecting the planet should be part of a good leader’s vision, no matter what else is happening in their role. If nothing else, it sets an effective stage for organisational changes to be developed and offers added purpose for leaders wishing to be at the forefront of their sector for a long time to come.
Would you like to learn more about vision and how you can
use yours to strengthen your leadership skills? Speak to Gayle to find out
about training options available – both online and in person – and start seeing
more clearly for yourself.
 Source: ‘The Leader’s Guide to Influence: How to use soft skills to get hard results’, by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent, 2010, p. 175
 Source: ‘Resilient Leadership: Beyond Myths and Misunderstandings’, by Karsten Drath, 2017, pp 121 – 127
 Source: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/252916, accessed 08 October 2020
 Source: https://www.history.com/topics/civil-rights-movement/i-have-a-dream-speech
 Source: ‘Define your personal leadership vision’, https://hbr.org/2008/08/title, accessed 08 October 2020