What You Can Learn From Visionary Leaders
Great leaders understand the value of a vision, but do you understand the value of a vision in your personal life?
Visionary leaders are the ones who inspire and motivate others in the execution of their dreams. As John F. Kennedy says, “Those who look to the past and present are certain to miss the future.”
Creating a vision forms part of an overarching plan for you to live an intentional life. Many make plans to die, they create a will and let their families know exactly what they want to happen to their personal effects after they pass. In some cases, they even plan their own funerals. How many people fully plan to live a life with purpose? Do you have a plan to help you succeed personally, professionally, and in business? If you do, this is what is meant by living an intentional life.
Before you can lead an intentional life, you must first learn to lead yourself by investing in your own personal development.
When you examine the life of highly successful people, a major reason for their success is their ability to inspire and motivate others to believe in their vision creating a monumental force that becomes unstoppable. For successful entrepreneurs, their vision guides the future direction of their business illuminating the way ahead and when kept burning brightly, keeps them on track.
Consider what these famous visionaries have in common.
Martin Luther King
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King (MLK) stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” in which he called for the end to racism in the United States. There were over 250,000 people gathered that day to hear him speak, along with many more watching on television or listening to him on the radio.
King began his prepared speech in a positive, and uplifting tone. He implored the audience to “go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”
Around the halfway point of his speech, Mahalia Jackson implored him to move away from his prepared speech. She said, “Tell ’em about the ‘Dream’ Martin!” From that point onwards, King spoke from the heart and began to tell the people about his dream.
“I have a dream that little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
Although the march had six official goals: meaningful civil rights laws; a massive federal works program; full and fair employment; decent housing; the right to vote; and adequate integrated education, Martin Luther King’s message that day was visionary. When he switched from articulating the goals of the civil rights movement to espousing the dream, this became a defining moment in history where he inspired a nation.
King had a dream and a belief that one-day segregation would become a thing of the past. With his powerful imagery and repetition of a simple and memorable phrase, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech has become immortalized in history. What resonated with his audience was the dream, not the goals of the civil rights movement. He didn’t lay out his plan, he inspired a nation with his vision of equality for all.
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy (JFK) served as the 35th president of the United States until his assassination in November 1963. He was a gifted politician and orator, JFK was also a visionary. He had the ability to inspire the American people to dream of a better future. His vision was to land a man on the moon, before the decade was out, and return him safely to Earth”.
“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”
Many of Kennedy’s speeches are considered iconic, especially his inaugural speech in which he famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” He also asked the nations of the world to join together to fight for what he called the common enemies of man; tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. Like MLK, he inspired others with a vision, for the betterment of mankind. The American public regularly considers him as one of the great presidents in the same league as other visionary presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Victor Frankl is a celebrated Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. He’s best known for his 1946 memoir “Man’s Search For Meaning”, a meditation on what the gruesome experience of being imprisoned in Auschwitz taught him about the primary purpose of life; and the quest for meaning. He believed this is what sustained those who survived the concentration camps, having something to live for. A purpose. A vision beyond the walls of Auschwitz.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Why is it that some prisoners survived the appalling conditions in the camps whereas others gave up and died? In his memoir, Frankl talks about how camp life demonstrated that man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom and independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions as psychological and physical stress.
For Frankl, working as a psychiatrist to the inmates, he concluded the meaning of life came from three possible sources: purpose, love, and courage in the face of adversity. He found that the single most important factor in cultivating the desire to survive was teaching fellow prisoners to hold in their mind’s eye a vision of the future. He cites Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” Those with purpose, hope, and the faith to believe, are the ones who survived.
The Wright Brothers
At the end of the 19th century, there was a race to develop the first manned flying machine. The two main rivals were Samuel Piermont Langley, Orville, and Wilbur Wright.
Samuel Pierpont Langley had all the right ingredients to successfully design the first man controlled flying machine. At age 50 he had already achieved prominence through his work as an astrologer. He held a prestigious position as secretary of the Smithsonian Institute. He was a professor of mathematics at the US Naval Academy and was very well connected. He was well funded and backed by the US government and received a $50,000 grant from the war department plus $20,000 from the Smithsonian Institute to develop a piloted airplane.
In spite of Langley’s obvious advantages, it was the Wright Brothers who prevailed. On December 17th, 1903, the Wright Brothers became the first men to successfully fly a piloted fixed-wing airplane. Wilbur flew their plane for 59 seconds at 852 feet. Unlike Langley, the Wright Brothers weren’t well funded. They had no high-level connections, no one on their team had a college education in fact some hadn’t even graduated high school.
What was it that made the difference? Langley had a goal and the Wright brothers had a dream. They had a vision that a flying machine would change the world. It was their ability to lead and inspire others in their community to continue to support their cause in spite of repeated failures. They excited and fed the human spirit with their vision for the future.
On the other hand, Langley’s motivation was to become rich and famous. It’s difficult to inspire others to believe in a goal when your motivation is self-centered and egotistical. He was more fixated on making a discovery on a par with Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. Langley had a goal to become the first man to invent a man controlled flying machine, the Wright Brothers had a vision to change the world.
What these famous visionaries had in common was their ability to overcome insurmountable odds and keep the faith that one day their dreams would eventuate even in the face of adversity.
As Jack Welch says, the former CEO of General Electric, “Great business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision and relentlessly drive it to completion.” A vision drives strategy which should be a clear and inspiring picture of your future.
What we can learn from these famous visionaries is the vision starts with you and the ability to lead yourself. Without a sense of purpose, it’s hard to lead an intentional life. Unless you lead an intentional life, you leave your life in someone else’s hands.
Without a vision to motivate and inspire you, is easy to get despondent when things go wrong. Goals in isolation are not connected to a long-term future and they certainly don’t drive you. Goals support your vision so that every day when you get out of bed, you live a life with purpose. It is when you face adversity or hit the wall emotionally, physically, and mentally that you need the inspiration a vision provides to see you through tough times. If you have lost your spark or find yourself in a rut, you will continue to stay there unless you bring change into your life.
How can you see where you are going if you don’t have a vision for the future. The key to success is to visualize something beyond what is in front of you right now. A life without boundaries and an opportunity to drive a future of your choosing rather than a life of someone else’s choosing.
Today you have a choice, and that is to take a giant leap of faith in the future. Create a vision, set some goals, and most of all lead yourself all the way to achieving those goals. Don’t let fear interfere with what could be the future where you get to thrive not just survive.
Underpinning every outstanding and successful person is a powerful and compelling vision of the future. They instinctively understand they can create the future they dream of, overcome their fears, build the courage to try, and have the faith to believe.
An athlete doesn’t go to the Olympics without a team behind them including a sports performance coach, nutritionist, sports psychologist, a doctor who specialized in sports medicine, and perhaps other specialist coaches as well. To reach the pinnacle of anything in life you need the right people behind you.
If you want to fire the boss and start your own business, find yourself a business coach to kick start your success.
If you want a promotion or a new job, find yourself an executive coach or career coach. Visualize yourself nailing the interview and landing the job of your dreams.
If you want work-life balance and to achieve personal goals, find yourself a life coach, and start designing the future you dream of.
If you want to become an elite athlete, find yourself a performance coach.
Learning to lead, learning to run a business is no easy task. It takes time and education to transform yourself into the leader you want to be. It all starts with learning how to hire and manage people. It is your communication and people skills that separate the wheat from the chaff.
To find out how you stack up as a leader. You never know what others see that you don’t see yourself. This kind of feedback is not always negative, perhaps you have great attributes and talents you weren’t even aware of.
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