By: Eric Betts
Intelligence and competence are indispensable qualities for visionary leadership. However, when compared to mirroring a vision by example, intelligence and competence take second place. If a leader is to blaze a trail or lay the groundwork for something great, a leader must make an impact through attitude and ethic rather than through inspirational speeches.
On the other hand, there are those who mistakenly conclude that visionary leadership must be combined with toughness and the ability to push their subordinates toward a dream. However, scientific studies and real-world experience shows that this is not the case. Leadership expert, John Maxwell, in his volume The Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, agrees with this concept. He says the following:
Whitley David asserted, “A good supervisor is a catalyst, not a drill sergeant. He creates an atmosphere where intelligent people are willing to follow him. He doesn’t command; he convinces.”Nothing is more convincing than living out what you say you believe.
A leader may speak eloquent words. They may dress well and command an audience. Their presentation may be extremely persuasive to those who are looking for answers. After the leader has finished making their case, they must remember that they are the center of attention and the subject of conversation by team members. Team members are forever examining and quietly critiquing the leader. They want to know whether the leader follows his or her own words or fulfills their own expectations. That is not to say that persuasion is not important, but it is only the beginning. Actions speak louder than words. According to Maxwell, the leader must not only share the vision but also model the vision. This will give the team members a picture of what the vision looks like in real life and what it takes to fulfill it.
Additionally, in the book Irrefutable Laws, Maxwell highlights the dynamic leadership abilities of General Colin Powell. Colin Powell spent most of his life as a leader in military and political service in the United States government. He served as chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, and later as Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration. According to Maxwell, Powell’s life in leadership is a tremendous example of what the Law of the Picture is all about. He shares one of Powell’s memorable statements about leadership:
Colin Powell, observed, “You can issue all the memos and give all the motivational speeches you want, but if the rest of the people in your organization don’t see you putting forth your very best effort every single day, they won’t either.”
Moreover, it is vital for the leader to understand that he or she must operate at a higher level than the rest of the team. The leader, in order to move in the direction of the vision, cannot be satisfied with fulfilling the bare minimum of what is expected of the rest of the team. In order to take the team to a higher level, they must exemplify what they need to become in order to succeed. The team must see the leader improving, growing, challenging themselves, and changing for the better. When the leader fails to live up to the expectations of the vision, the successful leader acknowledges the shortcoming and is willing to criticize themselves. This is how the leader gains the level of respect from the team. Such qualities will be coveted by the team members and emulated.
Maxwell says, “As a leader, the first person I need to lead is me. The first person I need to change is me. My standards of excellence should be higher for myself than those I set for others. To remain a credible leader, I must always work first, hardest and longest on changing myself.”
This is the concept that is stated in Maxwell’s published works. He tells his readers that leadership is more caught than taught. The leadership that is most convincing is not the type that impresses through expertise, but the one that is lived out in such an impressive way that it becomes contagious. For example, ethics can be taught, but when the ethics that are taught are not lived out, they will not be respected. They must be modeled in such an impressive way that others will enthusiastically buy in. This is the visionary leadership that will motivate, inspire, and change the lives of those that are led.
By: Eric Betts
Assistant Director, Curtis Coleman Center for Religious Studies and Ethics at Athens State University