Think Ahead or Get Left Behind

During my first week on the job as the 6 p.m. news producer at a Alabama television station, I was told to prepare myself for the director. My new colleagues warned me that he was brash, somewhat mean, and liked to yell and curse. I wondered how it was possible for him to have people follow his direction if his behavior was as they described. For him, that was his style and how he chose to lead the production of the newscasts. That’s how he got everyone’s attention. My colleagues seemed to be OK with it. But I couldn’t follow a person that I considered disrespectful. There was no way. I have to admit that he was a great director and produced flawless newscasts most of the time. But I couldn’t bring myself to listen to anything he said outside of those 30 minutes inside the control room. His leadership qualities left a lot to be desired.

Making someone believe in your vision takes time. Just because you have the title, doesn’t mean that respect automatically comes with it. Trust, confidence, and proven results are the things I look for in a leader I choose to follow. I have now started to consider those attributes  when I expect others to see my vision. There is no doubt that vision is a huge part of leadership. 

The late-Jack Welch, who was the successful leader of General Electric said, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”  Businesses need leaders with vision even more so than managers. Leaders with vision take risks, seek out new opportunities and lay out plans for others to participate (being inclusive) in making the vision a reality. But this goes outside the walls of businesses and organizations. Let’s just consider how community leaders have also successfully shared their vision.

The first person I think of is Martin Luther King, Jr. He led people in the south through such a turbulent time in America’s history. It would have been much easier for people to dismiss his ideas and continue to follow the law of the land. But through the delivering of dynamic speeches, leading marches, and countless other actions, he was able to convince others to see his vision. Because he was such a compassionate leader, he was able to persuade tens of thousands of people to put their lives on the line for equal rights.

In his “Mountaintop” speech, delivered to striking sanitation workers in Memphis the day before he was assassinated, King spoke of the promised land and urged workers to stick together.  Initially, Ralph Abernathy was to address the workers because King was not feeling well. But Abernathy felt the crowd wanted and expected to hear from King. So when King arrived, he was greeted by a standing ovation. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute described the passion in his speech that night by stating that witnesses, including “Abernathy, Andrew Young, and James Jordan said King had tears in his eyes as he took his seat.” 

King’s intense devotion to the cause was evident to all who have heard this speech. He had vision and those in his presence knew it. 

I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” is the popular name of the last speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. King spoke on April 3, 1968.

Forward-thinking is an attribute associated to leaders with vision. Forbes describes a visionary as “just a normal person who invests the time to create and communicate a forward-looking, shared meaning.” It’s not easy to become a leader with vision, but it is possible for the average person to become a visionary. 

Sarah Breedlove, also known as Madam C.J. Walker, was born the child of freed slaves in 1867. Because of her lack of education, she was forced to perform menial jobs as a young woman. She worked for another woman selling hair products until she developed a vision of her own. She had strong interest in haircare because she suffered from a scalp disorder that caused her to lose her hair. Walker moved to Denver in 1905, with just $1.05 in savings in her pocket, according to History.com. She created her own line of products and began selling them door-to-door. But that was only the beginning. She began to create a huge following. According to a profile on great leaders on Inc.com, Walker “built up her network of ‘Walker agents’ and paid them more than what the average unskilled white worker was earning at the time.” In that same article, Henry Louis Gates Jr. is quoted as saying, “More than any other single businessperson, Walker unveiled the vast economic potential of an African-American economy.” She is now recognized as the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S. Her influence and vision created a network of thousands of workers across the country who believed in her leadership and the product. 

Madam C.J. Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower

I recently read a blog called Take It Personel-ly by Chantal Bechervaise that listed five reasons why vision is important In leadership. They include:

  1. Vision shows us where we are headed.
  2. Vision provides motivation and inspires us to keep on going.
  3. Vision helps to keep us moving forward and move through obstacles.
  4. Vision provides focus.
  5. Vision gives us meaning and purpose to what we do.

I agree 100% with Bechervaise’s list. Not knowing where you’re going creates a stagnant business that is getting left behind by the competition and could directly affect employees and their morale. While headed in this new direction, we’ve got to be motivated and assure that this is the right thing to do. If people know that it is right and for the best interest of the organization or business, employees or organization members are more inclined to push harder to overcome obstacles. Focus keeps the distractions away. And once the vision is realized, everyone feels  pride because they were part of the vision.

A visionary leader does not have to be the CEO, although it would be ideal. But just think about how successful a company or organization could be if there were leaders with visions throughout its departments. The Harvard Business Review describes the ?? precisely: “Leaders must ask, “What’s new? What’s next? What’s better?”—but they can’t present answers that are only theirs. Constituents want visions of the future that reflect their own aspirations.” Being inclusive, yet forward-thinking and innovative are essential elements to have as a leader with vision. Without vision, how can a leader push things forward. Passivity is not an option if you want to be a visionary. You cannot be satisfied with the status quo. It’s your job as a leader to propel your business and people ahead.

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