‘I don’t really have a vision of where we’re heading’, said Natasha. ‘And I’m not able to give that vision to those who want to know about our work in the Academy.’
With that, it dawned on me that ‘visionary ‘and ‘inspirational’ are not the same, although I had tended to put them in the same basket. So often we explain ‘visionary’ in terms of the capacity to inspire.
If having and sharing a vision is inspirational, then inspiring people is what visionary leaders do.
So if you inspire people, you have all the makings of a visionary leader, right? Not so, I realized.
Inspiring people is not the same as sharing a vision. There are many ways to inspire people: by expressing beautiful stories and ideas, by exposing them to inspired art, music, or dance, by introducing them to a great book or movie, for instance, or by simply sharing what moves you. You can inspire them with your eloquence or your passion. But that doesn’t mean you are inspiring them with your vision – even if you are inspiring them in some way from your vision.
And not all visions inspire in the same way. We may have visions that are simple or humble – a vision of how or where we want to live, for instance, or how a derelict building might become a dream home.
Such visions may inspire us to action but they are not necessarily the great dreams and visions that will also inspire many other people.
Visions and Leaders
Visionary leadership presupposes that the leader has a vision that can inspire many of those in his or her sphere of influence and bring them into alignment with that vision.
But what is the relationship of that inspiration to the vision? Is it somehow intrinsic to the vision itself or is it an expression of the leader’s relationship to that vision?
I suspect it is something of both. And, besides the meeting of the vision and the visionary, there is a third element: a meeting of the vision with something in those who receive and share it. Great visions are timely.
Great visions speak to many people when they touch a need that has been unacknowledged and comes into new focus – such as Martin Luther Kings’ ‘I have a dream’ speech, in which he catches a mood and a moment to call for the end of discrimination and for a society in which there is racial equality.
Martin Luther King’s speech was a mix of the prepared and the spontaneous. Responding to a call from the audience to ‘tell them about the dream, Martin’ he departed from his prepared speech, but wove elements that he had already reflected upon and connected. There was a perfect meeting of a readiness in the mood of the nation to embrace a new sense of civil rights and King’s capacity to acknowledge that shift and be a channel for it.
How a dream is expressed makes a difference. Great dreams arise from a place within where individual and collective consciousness resonate.
A need and a possibility for deep transformation meet. The vision emerges like a crystallization of what had hitherto been half formed and unspoken within and between people into a clear and vibrant call to action.
Great dreams, timely dreams – when expressed from that fluid and unformed place within us where transformational impulses emerge – arrive infused with passion and a vital charge that sparks from the being of the leader to ignite the being of those who listen. The dream is shared.
Peter Wrycza, PhD, Moscow