Corinne McLaughlin is Executive Director of The Center for Visionary Leadership in the San Francisco and Washington, D.C. and co-author of Spiritual Politics and Builders of the Dawn. She coordinated a national task force for President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development and taught politics at American University. She has lectured around the U.S. and Europe for over 25 years, and offers training courses in Visionary Leadership and other themes at The Center for Visionary Leadership, 369 3rd St. #563, San Rafael, CA 94903; (415) 472-2540;
Are you 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 SPIRITUAL VALUESA commitment 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.
A CLEAR, INSPIRITATIONAL, VISIONVisionaries 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 Israelis.
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.
RESPECTFUL, EMPOWERING RELATIONSHIPSGood 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 than ever.
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.
INNOVATIVE, COURAGEOUS ACTION
Visionary 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 network.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 Millenium, 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.