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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Visionary Leadership

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #99

In my opinion, and the opinions of many of my colleagues, there has never been a better book written about leadership than Total Leaders. Schwahn and Spady synthesized the thinking of leadership gurus into five encompassing leadership domains. They identified the change process, the pillar of change, and the performance roles for each domain.

In a recent conversation about Total Leaders with Dr. Tom Butler, we challenged each other to contribute our thoughts about what it means to be an authentic and visionary leader in schools today. In this issue of Leadership Thoughts, I will attempt to share my notion of applying visionary leadership.

Charles Schwahn and Bill Spady's profiles of the Total Leaders are as applicable today as they were in 1998 when the book was published. The following profile of a visionary leader comes from page 50 of Total Leaders.

  • Mindset: Vision and leadership are synonymous. If you’re not a visionary, you’re a manager at best.

  • Purpose: Create an inspirational and concrete picture of the organization’s preferred future.

  • Focus: Shift, trends, future conditions. Respond to emerging and future needs of clients. Create scenarios of alternative futures.

  • Change Belief: Change happens when people can see a concrete picture of the future.

  • Performance Roles: Define a preferred organizational future. Consistently employ a client focus. Expand organizational options.

Chapter 4 of Total Leaders has a broad look at the nature and importance of visionary leadership. For the sake of this piece, I will offer my thoughts on the traits that make a visionary leader, the knowledge they must possess, and the actions they must be able to execute.

What characteristics make up a successful leader?

  1. Strategic and forward-thinking: able to recognize the overall plan and develop a clear vision for the future.

  2. Motivational: inspiring others to work together towards a goal.

  3. Creative: always seeking new methods of problem-solving.

  4. Capable of making difficult decisions rapidly and efficiently.

  5. Charismatic: able to sway others using charm and persuasion.

  6. Resilient: able to handle adversity and bounce back swiftly.

  7. Empathetic: intuitively understanding and connecting with the needs of others.

  8. Ethical: demonstrating a sound set of morals and principles.

What do visionary leaders need to know?

  1. Organizational savvy: an exceptional insight into their organization and field.

  2. Awareness of trends: understanding current and future developments and the ability to adjust.

  3. Team dynamics: comprehending the strengths and weaknesses of team members.

  4. Awareness of organizational atmosphere: a deep insight into the culture and climate in their organization.

  5. Tech-savviness: knowledge of the hottest technologies and how they may be implemented in their organization.

  6. Best practices: an extensive understanding of successful practices in other similar organizations.

  7. Communication abilities: the capacity to motivate, inspire, and persuade with words.

  8. Change theory: familiarity with what is needed to lead and manage change initiatives

What do visionary leaders need to do?

  1. Model the behavior they expect: by exhibiting the attitude and behaviors they want to see in their organization.

  2. Explain the vision: express the vision and objectives to people who can help shape the organization's direction.

  3. Encourage and excite: foster a sense of mission and enthusiasm among the members of the team.

  4. Take risks: be ready to make the hard calls and take sensible gambles.

  5. Establish relationships: develop strong, positive relationships with those who can influence the trajectory of the organization.

  6. Remain open to change: remain flexible and willing to adapt to evolving conditions and circumstances.

  7. Continue learning: never cease studying and seek opportunities for personal and professional development.

I firmly believe that anyone can become a visionary. It takes a willingness to look beyond the present and identify ways to work toward a better future. Becoming a visionary leader requires self-examination and developing the necessary knowledge and skills to lead others. Visionary leaders must build a collective sense of purpose through communication and collaboration. There needs to be more than a vision is not enough to be an effective leader; one must be willing to take risks and make tough decisions in order to reach the desired goal.


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