I’ve been reflecting on a question a friend posed on Facebook this week. He’d asked,
What would you say are the parts of society where visionary and inspirational leadership is most lacking but is most vital?
People responded with the obvious: the much-maligned government and public bodies came in for some criticism, large organisations, those seemingly tanker-like structures that take an age to turn around.
I was puzzled by his question.
My Definition of ‘Visionary’
It seems to me that having a vision is a function of being human.
And, humans are pretty evenly distributed throughout leadership positions.
Any of us can be a leader, if we feel minded to do so. From my 17 year-old taking charge of his school’s Politics’ Society (despite his preference to be in the shadows rather than the spotlight) to the Chairman of the Bank of England, whom I heard being interviewed on the radio this morning.
…according to the syllogistic logic of Aristotle, it must follow that visionary leaders are evenly distributed amongst the population and the organisations we associate with.
Take Helga, for example…
Take my client Helga. She’s had a long and illustrious career in ‘The City’ (finance and banking: pinstriped suits and seven-figure bonuses, not the most obvious place to look for visionaries perhaps).
Over the last year she’s become increasingly unsettled — she wants more meaning in her life. So she’s been on a journey; she’s taken a non-executive director position with a charity, she volunteers time with another non-profit. she’s done meditation and mindfulness courses.
And, finally, she’s come for coaching.
She thought she was looking for a job, an organisation, at the very least a sector, which would give her meaning, and where she could express her leadership potential.
She thought her circumstances dictated her peace of mind.
…what she’s come to realise through our coaching is that peace of mind is available anywhere, at any time; and that the meaning she gives to her life and work comes from the inside, not the outside.
Like being hit over the head with a plank of wood she woken up to the blindingly obvious: she’s been looking for a vision in the wrong place. It isn’t in a non-profit, in travelling, in spending more time at home. No, it’s in her, which means she can combine her expertise and experience in a way that creates the meaning she wants.
She’s on her way to becoming what I think my friend would call a visionary leader in a very traditional sector.
You see, what makes Helga, or indeed any of us, ‘visionary’, is where we look, not where, or who, we are.
‘Visionary’ is Beyond the Patio Doors
I have French windows in my office that look out over my garden. If all I do is look at the computer in front of me, I will never see what’s out in the world. Yet the world is there for me to see each and every day.
As soon as I raise my eyes, look into the garden, start to look beyond the garden to what might be over the fence, over the hill, even over the sea, then what I’m looking at has changed, even though my position has not.
If that vision is compelling to me — if I see a beautiful flower or I can imagine taking a chair outside and reading under a tree, then I’m going to do it, regardless of any ‘leadership’ or ‘decision-making’ (or even ‘manual handling’ ;-)) training I have or haven’t had.
Here’s my perspective,
When we see something that moves us enough to take action, the action becomes inevitable.
We are All Visionaries (if we do THIS…)
Each of us has the capacity for sight, therefore each of us has the capacity to be a ‘visionary leader’. Whether we activate that visionary leadership depends only on where we look, not where we are. I am in front of my computer, yet that doesn’t define my vision
There isn’t anything ‘special’ that only a select few can access; visionary leadership isn’t the product of a job role, sector or industry; it isn’t about environment or training, or the company we keep. It isn’t what we do or where we live.
It’s simply a product of being able to see.
In any moment we can open our eyes and look in a new direction. When we see something compelling enough to move towards, then we will step into our innate leadership, just as my normally back-seat-driving 17 year-old has done with the Politics’ Society.
In my work I see examples of this in sectors that many consider boring or staid or plain exploitative. Just this week I spoke with someone running a small chain of franchise restaurants, implementing what my friend would most likely call ‘visionary’ management practices.
Which is why I was so puzzled by my friend’s question.
Every single one of us — you, me, our friends and colleagues, our children and partners, all have the gift of sight.
The only thing that separates anyone from stepping into leadership is whether or not we see something that compels us to move forward.
Have a beautiful day, happy awakening, and talk next time.
About the author
Cathy Presland is a transformative leadership coach working with people who want to activate their full potential, just like Helga. If that’s you and you want to find out more, please contact her through her website https://cathypresland.com