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February 21, 2018 Wednesday 02:52:54 PM IST

ARE YOU A VISIONARY LEADER?

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Daniel Goleman, a globally acclaimed psychologist whose 1995 book Emotional Intelligence continues to be an international bestseller, in 2002, introduced the term visionary leadership as one of six leadership types. As the expression suggests, visionary leaders are successful in building a persuasively optimistic and inspirational vision of the future that attracts a band of committed followers. They are the creators of a new dawn, working with imagination, insight, and confidence. They present a challenge that calls forth the best in individuals and brings them together around a shared vision and purpose.

 

There is a deep connection between the leader and the whole, and true visionary leaders serve the good of the whole. They are at once the keeper of the faith and captain of the ship, steadfastly staying the course.

 


What are the qualities and abilities of true visionary leaders? George Washington wasn’t as educated as Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were, but his visionary leadership set him apart. According to a paper published by the University of Virginia, the first President’s persona was a combination of certain characteristics that prepared him for his unique role in history. You can nurture key characteristics to become a visionary leader, in turn motivating your team to greatness.

 

Visionary leadership is based on a balanced expression of the spiritual, psychological, emotional, and physical dimensions. It requires creating new possibilities, empowering relationships, and innovative action. When any of these dimensions are absent, leadership cannot manifest a vision.

 


NEW POSSIBILITIES

 

Visionary leaders are the builders of a new possibility that never existed before. In 1983, Rata Tata wrote a document that was unofficially called the Tata Plan when the company was under the leadership of  JRD Tata. In that blueprint, he suggested the group seek future growth through international operations. He also recommended reorganising the group to address the global opportunity better. Another example of his futuristic vision was the Nano. “What drove me — a man on a two-wheeler with a child standing in front, his wife sitting behind, add to that the wet roads — was a family in impending danger,” said Ratan Tata, while elaborating why he went for the Nano.

 


The Tata Administrative Services was yet another exceptional leadership initiative by Ratan Tata which helps to forge a cadre of leaders who imbibe the Tata values and contribute considerably to the organisation. An uncommon thread of leadership binds the over $13-billion (as of May 2o17) Tata Group, with its over 100- odd companies spread across six continents sharing a strong connection with the group’s values and sense of purpose.

 

There is a unique leadership engine at the top that takes care of early planning and mentoring of the right people for the  future and training them to take on bigger responsibilities. The globalisation of Tata, the setting up of TAS, and  the introduction of the Nano are but a few examples of how Tata looked into the future and set about crafting a vision for the Tata Group to help transform it into the modern multinational powerhouse it is today.

 


EMPOWERING RELATIONSHIPS

 

Effective visionary leaders give utmost importance to good relationships. They exemplify a deeply caring attitude for people, seeing them as their most important asset. This is evident from the life of Aaron Feuerstein who was the CEO of the Massachusetts based Malden Mills, a textile major and the original manufacturer of Polartec polar fleece. He maintained all his employees on the payroll even after a devastating fire had destroyed most of his factories. His employees were so thankful that they in turn assisted him in rebuilding the infrastructure and within a year, the organisation was more profitable than ever.

 


In contrast to the conventional style of leadership which ‘leads’ by diktat, visionary leaders are, at once, receptive and dynamic. They know how to listen and learn from other points of view and have highly developed communications skills.

 

Rita Bailey, Director of Southwest Airline’s University for People, says the secret of the airline’s amazing financial success lies in living by the golden rule — treating employees as family, with warmth and respect. Employees then treat customers the same way.

 


INNOVATIVE, COURAGEOUS ACTION

 

Visionary leaders alter old paradigms and build strategies that go beyond traditional thinking. They strike a balance between the rational right-brain and the intuitive left-brain functions. Their thinking is broad and systemic, at once taking in the big pictureand the underlying or interlinking patterns. It is out of this ability that they then create innovative strategies to help actualise their vision.

 


Ray Anderson, who was the CEO of Interface Carpets, regarded as the world’s largest manufacturer of modular carpets, took the courageous action in transforming the organisation into one among the most environmentally sustainable corporations. Interface launched a massive effort to cut its use of energy, replace petroleum-based supplies with vegetable-based substitutes, and reduce emissions by 24%. Customers now don’t buy a wall-to-wall carpet. Instead, they rent one and when it wears out, all its component parts are recycled, and the customer receives a new one.

 

Anita Roddick, the founder of Body Shop, the British cosmetics, skincare, and perfume major, chose to address health and environmental problems, as well as issues related to poverty in the Third World, through the innovative strategies

she designed for her hugely successful products and stores. Products are made of non-polluting ingredients and stores are opened in poor neighbourhoods to provide employment and return profits to the community.


 

When a true visionary leader  achieves great things, she is relying on the resources of her soul and its extraordinary capabilities. Each of us can tap our inner resources to become a more effective leader in our own field. First, we must be willing to seize the initiative and stand for something we believe in passionately.

 

We must be ready to take the heat. Many of us evade the responsibility of leadership mainly because of our inability to handle criticism and failure. But when we realise who we really are and live from an inner core of values, criticism can be filtered to take in only what is true and helpful to our growth while fear can be treated as a stepping stone to success.


 

As we stand witness to the unfolding of the Third Millennium, a new breed of visionary leaders are emerging in all fields of human endeavour across the world, spearheading a silent revolution strengthened by the power of the soul.

 

By acknowledging and assisting those who lead from their core spiritual values, we strengthen those leadership qualities in ourselves.



Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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