Great Leaders are known for many things: integrity, confidence, focus, decisiveness, accountability, resilience, transparency, emotional intelligence, to name a few.
But for me, there’s one characteristic that all great leaders share, though it’s seldom talked about in blogs, books, or training seminars. It’s a trait that stands above all the others because without it; all others lose their effectiveness.
The most important quality that great leaders share is vision, and no I don’t mean they got a 20/20 on their last eye exam.
What is Leadership?
Before we look at why vision is so important, let’s take a quick look at what leadership is.
Don’t worry; I’m not going to cite Webster’s dictionary or start pasting definitions from Google into this post. The fact is, leadership, leader, and lead have varying interpretations and meanings, depending on how you use them.
Instead, I’m going to give you my own personal definition:
A leader is someone who sees a bright future, understands how to realize it, and passionately wants to share it with others.
Would you follow someone if they had no idea where they were going?
I sure wouldn’t!
What if they said they knew where they were going but were unable to explain it to you?
That doesn’t inspire much confidence, does it?
People will not blindly follow a leader who has no idea of where he or she is going, nor will they be very motivated to perform well, and that is why vision is the most important trait of great leaders.
Let me give you an example.
The Power of Vision
I’m drafting this post on Monday, January 21, 2019, which happens to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. By the time this post is published the holiday will have passed, but Dr. King’s vision lives on, even after 56 years.
How did his vision stand the test of time? Dr. King is among history’s greatest leaders. He had an extraordinary vision for a better future, and he shared that vision with hundreds of thousands of people openly and publically in his famous speech entitled “I Have a Dream …”.
Because his vision was so incredibly clear, he was able to inspire a movement which then gained incredible momentum. People around the world could relate to his dream and visualize the future he wanted for his kids, so they adopted his vision as their own.
As tough as the journey would be, thousands of people united around a common vision and a shared goal in hopes of building a better future. That is the work of a great leader, that is the work of someone with vision.
Sharing a Vision
Great leaders understand that if a vision isn’t crystal clear, people won’t relate to it or buy into it. No matter how optimistic, charismatic, open-minded, motivated, or passionate you are, it won’t won’t matter if your team doesn’t understand the long-term vision.
This is something I’ve seen first hand.
At the company I work for, the leadership team (which includes myself) are a passionate, hard-working group of people, and I’m proud to work with every one of them. But all of our best traits aside, we have struggled to articulate a clear company vision for our team in recent years. It’s not an easy thing to do.
For us, 2018 was a year of reinvention and imagination. 2019 is going to be the year of vision. Here’s the thing, though: A vision is not something a single leader dictates to a group of people.
When I say “Sharing a vision” I don’t mean “explain your vision to your team so that they understand it.” What I mean is that a vision should be shared among the team as a collective idea. The leader’s role is not to dictate; it’s to help discover.
Dr. King saw, heard, and understood that his fellow people wanted a brighter future, and he wanted that too. He shared their dream and their ideas which ultimately made up their vision, and with those things in mind, he shared the vision with the rest of the world.
The Leader’s Role
I can hear the question already: “So, if the vision is something a group of people shares, why is vision an important trait for a leader?”
Have you ever heard the expression “He/She can’t see the forest for the trees“? What this means is that he/she can’t see the big picture because of the everyday whirlwind that is our “normal work.” In most companies and organizations, everyone is so busy driving the everyday business forward that it’s difficult to step back and see the big picture, a.k.a. the long-term vision.
That’s where great leaders come in.
Through collaboration and open communication, leaders can help the team see future possibilities. The leader may not have everything figured out, but he or she can help the team discover the group’s common interests and dreams. Then, when the vision is clear, everyone on the team can buy into the vision and help craft a plan to carry it forward.
Great leaders have amazing vision. They can see a bright future, they understand how to realize it, and passionately wants to share it with their teams.
Do you have vision?
If you haven’t already, start thinking about the long-term, big picture. Gather up your team, even if you’re not the leader, and start a discussion on what your collective future might hold. Help your teammates think about life 5, 10, and even 15 years down the road.
Life is better when we all know where we’re going. Life is better with a purpose.
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