Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Attaining Results Requires Visionary Thinking and Planning on Multiple Levels

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Leaders have a responsibility to connect elements of their vision in the context of thinking, planning and actions. Connecting vision to action and then to expected results depends upon effectively applying “visionary thinking” practices and principles. Visionary thinking then provides the means for strategic direction and specific deployment actions.

Leaders need to define the larger picture of who the organization is, which defines its being, and what it does, or its mission. This also includes identifying what values are important to the organization, where it is going or its visional direction, and why it must go in the direction its leaders determine. It takes visionary thinking to develop necessary strategies, procedures and plans capable of linking these elements in a way that moves employees and the organization forward.

It is no accident that visionary leaders generally become an organization’s best teachers and create definite linkages between values, vision and mission. They make communication the cornerstone of the organizational culture, and inspire members to embrace, actively work toward and successfully attain the shared vision.

The need for organizational change and sometimes a new course or direction is often not clear to management and/or the workforce. Visionary thinking works to integrate a strategic direction of an organization to a long-term destination, which then sets into motion various key elements and processes that work together to effect necessary changes. From a visionary standpoint, it is the leader’s primary responsibility to set the context for needed changes and present compelling reasons why management and employees alike should accept the challenges that the changes represent.

If the need for vision-related change is not clearly communicated in an organization’s strategic direction, then the value of planned strategies, goals, objectives, as well as the vision driving the intended changes will ultimately come into question. If the rationale behind particular changes is not thoroughly understood, the changes will be resisted. Then either nothing happens, or employees will only demonstrate superficial compliance.

Leadership is defined by recognizing the need to change, communicating this need, and accomplishing necessary incremental changes through the actions of employees. To align and communicate leadership expectations and responsibilities, terms such as vision, values and mission help get the attention of organizational employees to spark a desire for embracing progress.

Attaining organizational results requires visionary thinking and planning on multiple levels.

Visionary Thinking Places Employees’ Best Interests First

Above everything else, the key to successfully implementing vision-related initiatives is for leaders to create positive environments for employees that allow them to embrace their unique talents and capabilities, feel secure, grow and prosper. Imparting the larger picture to employees in regard to organizational vision is one of the most effective tools for facilitating a solid commitment to new vision, values and mission. With commitment comes positive and enthusiastic action.

If employees “feel” secure about the promise of the vision and the importance of the mission they will begin to take ownership of them. “Feelings” are associated with the organizational values and values, tend to define the culture. Therefore, leaders should consider how well the organizational culture is aligned with their vision, mission and actions.

Visionary Thinking Focuses on Values

Values are what are most important in relationship to attaining leadership and organizational vision. They provide organizational as well as personal parameters and boundaries, and help to guide behavior, prioritize decisions, and justify the rationale for vision-related decisions. With organizational values as a foundation, vision is where the organization needs to go.

One of vision’s main functions is to provide excitement about the mission or destination. Visional communication that is value-based explains to employees how all the various vision-related elements come together and interlink to determine actions that accomplish the desired goals, objectives and changes.

Vision and Positive Workplace Culture

Culture and leadership are often considered two sides of the same coin. This is because leaders tend to first create positive cultures when they establish well-functioning and collaborative groups within their organizations and departments. Once these cultures exist, they determine the best criteria for moving their visional direction forward.

Incorporating cultural understanding into the “visional picture” and directional goals and objectives is essential to leading effectively. If organizational and workplace cultures become dysfunctional, leaders have to think of strategies that can be implemented to successfully manage transformational change in such a way that their employees can survive and cope with it. If leaders are conscious of the cultures in which they operate and function, those cultures will manage the desired changes.

Visionary Thinking Coordinates Resources

Vision, values and mission become the means by which leaders are able to guide, influence and educate their employees. Among these three factors, vision becomes the “magnetic field” that works to align people, efforts and resources, which tends to generate a desire to incorporate positive planning, action steps and motivation to achieve successful outcomes.

Visionary thinking focuses on the ways and means to coordinate employees and resources that will make necessary changes a reality. It considers interconnections between organizational values, vision, and mission that work to provide a new sense of direction or drive higher levels of performance. This forms the basis for determining where the organization needs to go and the changes that will help get it there. Visionary thinking helps to eliminate management processes, practices and procedures that tend to void or negate positive vision-related efforts, workforce momentum and work-related enthusiasm.

Visionary Thinking Should Not be Confused with Strategic Planning

Leadership is based on change, and change is about thinking differently and being creative. Strategic planning void of visionary thinking is nothing more than a superficial to-do list and may not detail the more in-depth pursuits needed to accomplish the real desired outcomes.

When vision, values, and mission guide an organization’s strategic direction, real change becomes the driving force for the development of specific goals and objectives. In this way, vision and values become more of a strategic plan than the created project plans that are developed to accomplish particular goals and objectives.

Leading vision-related change is typically considered to be a right-brain activity in which getting people to see the reasons why change is necessary and how to go about implementing it is the focus. Managing vision-related change is mostly a left-brain activity concerned with the “what’s and how’s” of action steps, and laying out a strategic course and direction.

Developing visionary thinking requires addressing and designing implementation procedures and practices around eight steps.

  • Establishing an immediate sense of urgency;
  • Creating a vision-oriented “guiding and directing” base of supporters;
  • Developing a separate strategy and vision for each smaller part of the whole;
  • Communicating the vision of change;
  • Empowering broad-based employee actions;
  • Generating short-term wins and successes;
  • Consolidating gains in order to generate further change;
  • Embedding new approaches, philosophies and practices into the organizational culture.

Taken in their entirety, these steps can be viewed from a sequential perspective, which moves from leading visionary change to managing it in order to complete sequential and incremental forward movement. The final four steps may be seen as forming a transition from “where we as a collaborative group need to go” to “how we’re going to get there.”

Visionary Thinking Leads to Action

Once the leader’s vision is defined and communicated, the visionary thinking process becomes officially translated into action. Strategic planning becomes more of a programming activity to support the leader’s visionary thinking. Within this context a leader can expect tension between leading and managing change.

Visionary thinking should provide a means to support the creation of a common focus. This is not to be confused with the development of a vision statement. A formalized vision statement may or may not provide the desired common focus and commitment for needed actions or changes.

When a leader’s vision statement becomes “etched in stone,” it may inhibit refocusing, redefining, and communicating a new sense of direction for achieving a different end result or seeking out new opportunities. Within the visionary thinking process it is more important to develop ways to “etch” the leader’s vision in employees’ minds and hearts, as well as to guide their behaviors and attitudes.

It is just as important to develop criteria that consistently provides for decision-making and prioritization that will accomplish the organization’s vision-related mission. Visionary thinking is about creating new categories for developing or grouping previously developed strategies. It needs to focus on defining functions and processes that take leaders beyond their normal comfort zones and limitations to view things from new perspectives and in new combinations.

Aligning vision with action should be the goal of vision-based thinking and strategic planning. Ultimately, aligning vision and action should move the organization in the desired direction.

Excerpt: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Vision: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD

Related:

How Well Are You Communicating Your Vision?

Execution: Six Action Steps

Seven Productive Responses to Change

How Well Do You Set the Tone?

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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3 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on THE STRATEGIC LEARNER and commented:
    Useful approach to the complexity of decision-making here …

    John Smith

    March 7, 2014 at 1:17 pm

  2. Reblogged this on Gr8fullsoul.

    ramakrishnan6002

    March 7, 2014 at 6:38 pm

  3. Timothy, thank you for your clarity in this piece. Change without vision often means going round in circles, while vision without change often means going nowhere at all. Coupling vision to change is essential for business success. You’ve laid out here six key points that involve turning vision into action. Thank you.


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