are the builders of a new dawn, working with imagination, insight, and
boldness. They present a challenge that calls forth the best in people and
brings them together around a shared sense of purpose. They work with the
power of intentionality and alignment with a higher purpose. Their eyes are
on the horizon, not just on the near at hand. They are social innovators and
change agents, seeing the big picture and thinking strategically.
There is a
profound interconnectedness between the leader and the whole, and true
visionary leaders serve the good of the whole. They recognize that there is
some truth on both sides of most polarized issues in our society today. They
search for solutions that transcend the usual adversarial approaches and
address the causal level of problems. They find a higher synthesis of the
best of both sides of an issue and address the systemic root causes of
problems to create real breakthroughs.
© 2001 Corinne
someone with a vision burning inside that seeks to manifest? Do you see
yourself as a visionary?
What is it that makes a visionary become a visionary leader? A
visionary may dream wonderful visions of the future and articulate them with
great inspiration. A visionary is good with words. But a visionary
leader is good with actions as well as words, and so can bring his/her
vision into being in the world, thus transforming it in some way. More than
words are needed for a vision to take form in today’s world. It requires
leadership and heartfelt commitment.
A visionary leader is effective in manifesting his or her vision
because s/he creates specific, achievable goals, initiates action and
enlists the participation of others.
What are the qualities and abilities of true visionary leaders? What is
the mysterious inner process within leaders that enables them to work their
magic and radiate the charisma that mobilizes others for a higher purpose?
Visionary leadership is based on a balanced expression of the spiritual,
mental, emotional and physical dimensions. It requires core values, clear
vision, empowering relationships, and innovative action. When one or more
of these dimensions are missing, leadership cannot manifest a vision.
A COMMITMENT TO CORE
to values is an outstanding characteristic of all visionary leaders. They
embody a sense of personal integrity, and radiate a sense of energy,
vitality and will. Will is standing in a spiritual state of being. Will is
a spiritual attribute, which allows a leader to stand for something.
More self-aware and reflective than others, visionary leaders follow an
inner sense of direction, and lead from the inside out, as exemplified by
Mahatma Gandhi. He said, “I must first be the change I want to see in my
world.” He was a prime example of a commitment to values, as he freed India
by appealing to the moral conscience of Britain and using “satyagraha” or
non-violent action to reveal the immorality of the British Empire.
Rather than being corrupted by power, visionary leaders are elevated by
power and exercise moral leadership. Mary Robinson, former President of
Ireland and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, embodies this type of
moral leadership, as does Marion Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s
Defense Fund, who has a deep commitment to children’s welfare.
Many successful leaders in business, such as Jeffrey Swartz of Timberland
Shoes, have demonstrated the power of living their values. Swartz pays
employees to volunteer in the community and honors the “double bottom
line”--profit and values”. Tom Chappell, CEO of Tom’s of Maine, found that
he could “do well by doing good.” Doing good-- embodying his values--has
made his company very profitable. Tom’s of Maine uses all natural
ingredients in their products to protect consumers and the environment.
who are successful at manifesting their visions base their leadership on an
inspirational, positive picture of the future, as well as a clear sense of
direction as to how to get there. Vision is a field that brings energy into
form. Effective leaders broadcast a coherent message by themselves embodying
their vision, as author Margaret Wheatley notes. They keep communicating
the vision to create a strong field which then brings their vision into
physical reality. Nelson Mandela clearly held a positive vision of a
racially harmonious South Africa during his 28 years in jail and helped
bring it into reality peacefully-- to the amazement of the world.
The best visionary leaders move energy to a higher level by offering a clear
vision of what is possible. They inspire people to be better than they
already are and help them identify with what Lincoln called “the angels of
their better nature.” This was the power of Martin Luther King’s “I have a
dream” speech. The creative power of lighted, inspired words can sound a
certain inner note that people recognize and respond to. This then creates
dramatic social change. Like King, visionary leaders have the ability to
sense the deeper spiritual needs of followers and link their current demands
to these deeper, often unspoken, need for purpose and meaning.
Visionary leaders often have the ability to see higher spiritual forces at
work behind the scenes of events, and they align with the vision of these
redemptive forces. Both George Washington and Winston Churchill spoke about
the help they received from a “guiding hand.” Churchill said, “...we have a
guardian because we serve a great cause, and we shall have that guardian as
long as we serve that cause faithfully.”
Sojourner Truth, a former slave, was guided by an inner spiritual experience
to preach the emancipation of slaves and women’s rights all over the country
during the Civil War. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt had a vision of
Mohammed who told him to create peace in the Middle East. This vision is
the hidden story behind the Camp David Peace Treaty between Arabs and
Visionary leaders transmit energy to people, giving them a new sense of hope
and confidence in achieving the vision. Television host Oprah Winfrey helps
her guests believe in themselves and work to create a better world.
Visionary leaders often enunciate a vision based on principles that become
guideposts for humanity. They intuitively draw on the ageless wisdom and
present it in a new synthesis to meet the particular need of the times. In
the Brundtland Report, Gro Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway,
helped synthesize the principles of sustainable development that are needed
to protect our environment for future generations.
relationships are the heart of effective visionary leaders. They embody a
deeply caring approach to people, seeing them as their greatest asset.
Aaron Feuerstein, CEO of Malden Mills, kept all his employees on the payroll
when a fire destroyed 75% of his factories. His employees were so grateful
they helped him rebuild and within a year the company was more profitable
In contrast to the old style of leadership which tells people what to do,
and pushes or dominates them, visionary leaders embody a receptive, as well
as a dynamic energy. They know how to listen and learn from other points of
view and have fine tuned their communications skills. Rita Bailey, Director
of Southwest Airline’s University for People, says the secret of the
airline’s amazing financial success is living by the golden rule--treating
employees as family, with warmth and respect. Employees then treat
customers the same way.
Visionary leaders promote a partnership approach and create a shared sense
of vision and meaning with others. They exhibit a greater respect for others
and carefully develop team spirit and team learning, Building this sense of
shared vision and partnership has also been key to the effectiveness of
feminist Gloria Steinem.
The most effective visionary leaders are responsive to the real needs of
people and they develop participative strategies to include people in
designing their own futures. This approach has been very successful for
Robert Haas, the CEO of Levi Strauss. Rather than confront or avoid
conflict, the new leaders have learned how to transform conflict into usable
energy. They work to unite--rather than divide-- people.
leaders are especially noted for transforming old mental maps or paradigms,
and creating strategies that are “outside the box” of conventional thought.
They embody a balance of right brain (rational) and left brain (intuitive)
functions. Their thinking is broad and systemic, seeing the big picture, the
whole system, and “the pattern that connects.” They then create innovative
strategies for actualizing their vision. CNN founder Ted Turner transformed
television news by boldly creating an around-the-clock international news
CEO Ray Anderson took courageous action in transforming his world-wide
company, Interface Carpets, into the most environmentally sustainable
corporation. Interface launched a massive effort to cut its use of energy,
replace petroleum-based supplies with vegetable-based substitutes, and
reduce emissions by 24%. Customers now don’t buy a wall-to-wall
carpet--they rent one--and when it wears out, all its component parts are
recycled, and the customer receives a new one.
Visionary leaders anticipate change and are proactive, rather than reactive
to events. Their focus is on opportunities, not on problems. They emphasize
win/win--rather than adversarial win/lose--approaches. This is the strategy
of environmental economist Hazel Henderson, author of Building a Win/Win
World, who created The Calvert/Henderson Sustainable Indicators with the
Calvert Social Investment Funds.
Body Shop founder Anita Roddick addressed health and environmental problems,
as well as poverty in the Third World, through the innovative strategies she
designed for her hugely successful products and stores. Products are made of
non-polluting ingredients and stores are opened in poor neighborhoods to
provide employment and return profit to the community.
When we see a truly visionary leader accomplishing great things, s/he is
drawing on the resources of their soul and its remarkable capabilities.
Each of us can access our inner resources to become a more effective leader
in our own field. First we must be willing to take initiative and stand
for something we believe in passionately. We must be ready to take the
heat. Many of us avoid the responsibility of leadership primarily because
we are too sensitive to criticism. But when we know who we truly are and we
live from an inner core of values, criticism can be filtered to take in only
what is true and helpful to our growth.
Today, as we enter the Third Millennium, thousands of new visionary leaders
are emerging in all fields of human endeavor around the world, leading a
quiet revolution energized by power of the soul. By appreciating and
supporting those who lead from their core spiritual values, we strengthen
those leadership qualities in ourselves.
is co-author of Spiritual
Politics and Executive Director of The Center for Visionary Leadership, which offers public educational
programs, values-based leadership training and consulting services for
business, government and non-profit organizations. She formerly taught
politics at American University and coordinated a national task force for
President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development. She can be reached
in the San Francisco area at The Center for Visionary Leadership, 369 3rd
St. #563, San Rafael, CA 94901; 415-472-9540; email: