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Why vision is still an essential leadership quality

Rose Siu
Rose SiuAP Commercial Marketing Director
As Commercial Marketing Director at a fortune 500 company, I support our sales growth and enhance our reputation through strategic planning and operations, brand marketing, corporate communication, digital marketing as well as retail & eTailer marketing. I have over 20 years of experience in driving marketing success at regional and global levels for some of the world’s leading technology brands.

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Technology is an ever-evolving force. But as it continues to snowball, today’s business and thought leaders are placing more emphasis on present opportunities to the detriment of future potential. Leaders are increasingly concerned with the ‘right now’ rather than creating a vision for the future. Although it’s being overlooked far too often in the world of tech and the digital transformation, vision is always en pointe, and one of the most essential leadership qualities.


How Do We Define Leaders?

Both Bill Gates and Steve Job provide solid examples of leadership. But Gates has a very different approach than Jobs did to management. While the Microsoft mogul takes a more pragmatic approach, Jobs was all about innovation. Even so, both were incredibly successful, causing future tech leaders to try to parse out and develop the qualities of solid leadership. It turns out that managers don’t have to possess the exact traits, outlooks or approaches to be great.

In his 2002 book, Primal Leadership, psychologist Daniel Goleman outlines five leadership styles:


  • Visionary: These managers look towards the future and are great at getting a company to focus on a shared future goal. They show people where to go but don’t tell them how to get there. This allows innovation and experimentation to thrive.


  • Coaching: These types focus on making all of their employees the best they can be. While some team members might dislike the micromanaging tendencies of a coach, others will love the one-on-one time they devote to staff.


  • Affiliative: Making staff feel valued is the sole goal of the affiliative leader. With 65% of people reporting feeling undervalued on the job, this style can maintain team morale and work satisfaction. Employees will experience very little conflict when working on a team managed by this person because everyone is committed to achieving goals together.


  • Coercive: The military inspires these common, but often ineffective, leaders. They tell people what to do when to do it and how they expect it to be done. While their no-excuse attitude can work in times of crisis, it generally leaves employees feeling undervalued and unsatisfied.


  • Democratic: Looking to others for ideas can create a stronger, more motivated team where individuals feel valued for their opinions and what they have to offer. But when left to themselves, these leaders often struggle to make solo decisions efficiently.

Some of these styles are more effective than others at given times. But part of being a good leader is having the emotional intelligence to know when to move between each of the leadership styles as the situation demands.


Why Vision Matters

Above all else, vision separates great leaders from the masses. But too many leaders lock themselves into the mundane business of daily operations, only spending about 3% of their time devising a future vision or plan. A study by the Harvard Business Review revealed that nearly three-quarters of employees listed ‘forward-thinker’ as a trait they wanted in a leader. People expect their leader to have a vision for the future and a plan for how everyone can work together to get there.

With employees focused on daily operations, executives must turn their attention to what’s beyond the horizon. Without vision, a company will lack the necessary direction and guidance to ensure that it continues thriving five or ten years’ down the road, and beyond. Managers who look ahead push their company forward and ensure that their staff will still be happily employed in the future.

Virtually every example of great leadership is rooted in an example of that person’s brilliant strategic vision for the future. Failed executives are often fired for ‘lack of vision’, and a Gallup poll showed that only about 10% of managers have the talent and traits to succeed.


Emotional Intelligence and Visionary Leadership

 Goleman claimed that a high level of emotional intelligence–that is, the ability to perceive, understand and manage one’s own emotions and those of others–is crucial to great leadership.

He outlined five key components of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Empathy
  • Motivation
  • Social skills

To be a truly effective leader, one must be proficient in each component. It’s not enough to just have great social skills and possess a tremendous amount of energy if you can’t control your own emotions in the face of trying circumstances. Great leaders need the emotional resilience to be able to adapt to whatever comes their way. But they also need the ability to develop strong personal connections with key staff members. An effective business can’t run solo. Support staff must feel satisfied and valued in order to be motivated and produce their best work. The strong correlation between empathetic and engaging leadership and a leader’s financial performance are uncanny.


How to Use Vision to Drive Change

Having a vision for change without getting your company on board is like having a fishing rod without any bait. You aren’t going to hit your goals or meet your targets. The only way for leaders to drive change in their company is to inspire and unite every employee behind a single, shared goal—so transparency is key.

The best leaders don’t just develop visions and strategies for the future; they share their vision with colleagues and create a following. As a result, the intangible vision becomes something much more concrete—a goal with a strategy for how to achieve it. Once you lay out your vision, employees will stop asking ‘why’ and start asking how they can help achieve change.

But employees must feel represented and respected in order to adopt a vision of their own. Fifty-five percent of employees who feel valued and respected by leadership are more motivated and engaged at work. For your team to fully commit, they will need to know how the change will impact their jobs and their futures. They will need to know that your vision includes them in it. Leaders who want to drive change must develop clear strategies and outlines for the entire organisation, and ensure that their employees feel valued every step of the way. Only then will everyone be willing to work together towards a shared goal for the future.

From Caesar, who had the vision to expand the Roman Empire, and Joan of Arc, who had a vision for a French republic, to George Washington, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Steve Jobs: the greatest leaders of all time have always valued vision in their roles. As technological advances quicken, leadership will play an increasingly important role in the future of business and the digital age. Understanding what the world will look like and how companies will operate in the future is an essential skill for today’s business leaders to master. Vision, above all else, is the key to great leadership.

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