Do You Need More Vision in Your Leadership - Or Leadership for Your Vision?
© 2010 Corinne McLaughlin
On our last book tour, my husband and I were scheduled to do a major radio interview in San Francisco about spirituality and social change. As we were driving from Oregon on the main north/south highway toward San Francisco, we suddenly saw smoke and flames leaping high into the sky ahead.
A huge forest fire was raging right in front of us. Soon it filled the whole sky, and smoke choked our throats. The cars ahead of us slowed down and came to a complete stop. The four-lane highway became a parking lot, and people were getting out of their cars and trying to figure out what to do.
We asked a policeman if he knew when they’d have the fire under control. He said that it could take hours or even until the morning. He suggested that we leave our cars, get some coffee or food at a nearby restaurant for a few hours, and maybe find a hotel for the night. Most people followed his advice.
We were really concerned because we had only had a few hours to make it to San Francisco for our interview. We couldn’t believe that there was no alternative. We went into the local town to find a map and talk to locals about other routes to San Francisco. Sure enough, there was another road that went through the mountains. It was a little longer and windier than the main highway, but we decided to give it a try.
We thought that the road would be packed with other cars taking a detour from the fire on the main highway. But to our surprise, we found it was very empty! We couldn’t believe it. This route was very beautiful and scenic and we really enjoyed it. It took a little longer than the main highway, but we made it to our interview in plenty of time.
So why had none of the other motorists taken this alternative? For us, it seemed the obvious choice because we’ve always been practical visionaries, exploring a bigger vision and looking for alternative ways to achieve our goals—such as getting around blockages and traditional ways of doing things. So we naturally looked for an alternative route. Most people on the main highway seemed passive, like cows contented to be herded into a blocked pasture, waiting for the authorities to tell them when they could move.
To me, this experience symbolized some essential points. To be a practical visionary, you need both the vision to imagine another reality (an alternative route to take instead of being stuck in traffic for hours) and the practicality to find a way to make it happen (looking for maps, getting advice from the locals, and then be adventurous enough to take a different route). A practical visionary synthesizes the duality of being both visionary and practical, but then a further step is needed.
The Need for Real Leadership Today
The next step is more challenging because it’s about expressing more leadership around the vision. In the story I shared, we didn’t inspire or encourage others to take the alternative route we found. We just took off on our own.
But what’s really needed today are visionaries who have explored new routes and new ideas and then are willing to serve as leaders. They have to courageously communicate the vision to others. The world needs leaders who act altruistically from a higher vision and from a deeper spiritual motive of service—and then carry it through.
There’s plenty of visionaries with grand ideas and endless words about the future, who can’t seem to ever really do something. They never take effective action to meet real human needs. And there’s also plenty of practical people who are good at doing things the same old way they’ve always been done--with the same old problems resulting. But practical visionaries who are willing to step forward as leaders are what’s really needed today.
Leadership has been given a bad rap lately. But the fault lies with our current crop of dysfunctional and corrupt leaders—not with leadership per se. And the fault also lies with the many good people who are afraid to take initiative and step forward as leaders. You have to be visible and accountable when you’re a leader, and too many talented, good, spiritual people would prefer to just stay in the background and not be challenged in any way.
Many people have also fallen prey to a distorted thoughtform about equality, and think that they can help people by playing small, and being just like everyone else, rather than expressing courage and leadership and taking responsibility for helping our world today. It’s not enough to rage against the problems and evils in the world. We need to understand the larger context of what’s unfolding today. There’s a whole New World growing everywhere--despite the crises—with creative solutions to our problems.
We need to each find our part in this New World—our unique contribution to a better life for everyone. We each need to get in touch with our higher purpose and do an honest inventory of our gifts and abilities and match them with what’s needed in the world. Then we can shape our purpose into a specific mission and design an appropriate strategy for achieving our goals. Most important, we need to make sure we’d really enjoy taking on the challenge that we’re considering, so that it’s sustainable for the long run.
So ask yourself, do you need more vision in your leadership—or more leadership for your vision? Do you need to incorporate new ideas and inspiration, or do you need to know how to make your vision a practical reality in the world? Where are you in this journey?
Visionary leaders are not just good with words; they’re also effective with actions. Even in today’s economy, a practical visionary knows how to attract resources to manifest his or her vision.
Many visionaries fail in their efforts because they’re too far ahead of what humanity is ready for. Their challenge is to envision the next step needed—an attractive, pragmatic vision for the near future—not something that will take a hundred years to manifest. It’s more effective to focus on vision that can be achieved in the foreseeable future, outline the steps needed to manifest it, and work on each step in turn.
Often I’ve been in meetings where someone dramatically states an ideal with such passion and inspiration that s/he sways everyone--while being totally dismissive of practical considerations and the actual reality on the ground. This type of person often leads people into disastrous failures and wastes much time and resources, which then gives that ideal an undeserved bad name.
Qualities of Visionary Leaders
Successful practical visionaries lead from the inside out, while employing skill in action. They are pioneers who bring a new, compelling picture of the future to the present to meet people’s needs. They courageously follow an inner sense of direction and stand for core values and clear principles. They think outside the box and embrace challenges and change. They focus on opportunities and solutions, not problems.
John Marks and Susan Collin Marks, co-directors of Search for Common Ground, are great exemplars of visionary leadership. They have solid values and a clear vision of a world where conflicts are resolved peacefully through simple techniques that anyone can learn. And they are very creative in responding to unusual opportunities to teach conflict resolution techniques, such as producing popular local soap operas in many countries worldwide that embody these principles.
Practical visionaries anticipate change; they’re proactive rather than reactive. They think systemically—seeing processes and interconnections. They’re aligned with their inner essence, or higher self, and most importantly, they link people’s current needs to their deeper, spiritual needs. They radiate energy and vitality and express a balance of three key qualities:
Will: purpose, courage, focus, vitality and perseverance.
Heart: compassion, harmony, mutually respectful relationships and empowerment of others.
Mind: creative intelligence, whole systems thinking, intuition, thoughtful planning and innovative problem solving.
Sounding a Clear Note of Purpose and a Higher Vision
Leadership begins with recognizing the key role of purpose and vision. Purpose is discovered in the sacred fire of your heart. Connecting to a spiritual energy source awakens you to your higher purpose in life and a vision for a better world. You can lay the groundwork for discovering your vision and developing your leadership by researching which fields of work need the passion and skills you have to give. Identify a need that is not currently being met and that you could help provide for.
For example, Judy Wicks, founder of the highly successful White Dog Café in Philadelphia, was very concerned about the poverty and environmental destruction she found all around her. So she reframed her purpose and made her restaurant “a tool for the common good” and used it to raise money for the hungry, support local organic farmers and sponsor seminars on racism, the environment, and social change.
Is there a burning vision within you that urgently wants to be expressed in the world? To find it, turn within, connect to a spiritual energy source and ask about your soul’s unique purpose: “What do I have to give the world that is really needed and that no one else is doing right now?”
Focusing on your purpose is like sounding a clear note on an inner level. A clear inner note calls everything to it through the law of resonance and attraction. Your clear note of purpose mysteriously draws people and resources that are in resonance with it to help you carry out your purpose. When you’re in alignment with your purpose, you’re more joyful. You’re also more in tune with the higher evolutionary plan for humanity.
Why is having a clear purpose and vision so powerful? Quantum science provides some insights through research on the impact of invisible fields on human activities. Scientists are finding that matter is affected by nonlocal causes, that elementary particles are affected by connections that exist unseen across time and space. Creating a clear purpose and vision broadcasts a coherent field of intention, and this affects your (as well as other people’s) thoughts and actions. It results in the unexpected synchronicities that bring wonderful possibilities to our lives and open new doors.
When there is a clear vision and purpose in an organization, there is tremendous coherence and energy. Things seem to happen effortlessly and magically. In fact, focusing on vision and mission is one of the most popular trends in business and management. Clear purpose and commitment create a unified field of shared intention that produces the most productive, creative and high-energy organizations, because the resulting coherence creates a powerful, energetic vortex that aligns everything around it. And having a clear mission, in alignment with your soul’s purpose, makes you more effective and productive in your own life.
Applying Your Vision
Whether your vision is a part-time avocation or a full-time vocation depends on three things: your karmic obligations (the responsibilities you may have to your family or others); your previous experience and skills that may need developing; and the evolution of humanity in relation to the aspect of the evolutionary plan that you seek to serve.
In other words, are people ready to receive what you have to offer? Can you actually make a living in this profession, or is it so new that there is not an easy way to produce income from it yet? So it anyway and you may be surprised at the way the universe supports you. Are the colleagues whom you need to work with ready and available yet? The answers to these questions can affect the timing of expressing your higher purpose and your leadership in the world.
Your purpose may be about learning to embody a new quality of being, such as compassion or courage. It could be to learn about selfless love by raising a good, loving family. At any particular time, it could be to learn a spiritual lesson, to pay off karma, or to fulfill or balance out a relationship.
Or your vision may be mainly about doing something in the world, such as starting an organization for peace. Or it could be to write a book or produce a work of art, to invent a new technology, or to help create a new organization, as did Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons who co-founded Bioneers. Their yearly conferences honoring pioneering environmentalists have become a phenomenal network with live broadcasts to many sites worldwide.
Your vision is your unique contribution to the world that both serves a true need and expresses your natural talents. It gives you a profound sense of who you are, why you are here, where you come from, and where you are going. It often involves working on something bigger and more enduring than yourself. It’s what you most enjoy, as it fills you with love and a sense of giving. It’s about making a difference in the lives of others.
For example, Bill George, founder of Medtronic, said that his real purpose and the mission of the business he founded is “to contribute to a just, open and sustainable society.” Each year, he asks six customers to share their personal stories with employees, describing how the company’s medical equipment has saved their lives or the lives of loved ones. This inspiration fuels the passion and commitment of his employees.
But you need to release the idea that everything about your purpose and vision must be unique to you. Some parts of your vision are shared by other human beings; it is always a group mission of some kind. You must also release the false idea that your purpose is something that Spirit orders you to do without any agreement from your soul, mind and heart. You always have free will to cooperate with Spirit or not. The goal is to co-create in partnership with Spirit.
You also need to release the idea that your unique purpose must consist of some achievement that all the world will see. In reality, no one may ever know about your purpose or achievement, so be detached from recognition and fame, and take comfort from knowing you are doing the right thing.
Lastly, let go of the idea that what you have accomplished is only your doing. Acknowledge and appreciate the help you receive from other people. Thank friends and colleagues who have helped you or laid the groundwork for you to take the next step. And inwardly give thanks to the help you’ve received from the spiritual dimensions. We all receive help spiritually, which opens doors for us and arranges for seeming coincidences in people we meet and for resources and support that come our way. All you need to do is ask for help and have a clear intention. From this you can receive the support to help you be a truly effective visionary leader.
A truly visionary leader who accomplishes great things draws on the resources of his or her soul and its remarkable capabilities. Although not everyone is destined to become famous, each of us can access our inner, spiritual resources to become a more effective leader in our own field, regardless of its size. But first we must be willing to take initiative and stand for something we believe in passionately. We must be ready to take the heat. Many of us avoid the responsibility of leadership primarily because we are overly sensitive to criticism. But when we know who we truly are and we live from an inner core of values, criticism can be filtered so we take in only what is true and helpful to our growth.
Today, thousands of new visionary leaders are emerging in all fields of human endeavor around the world, leading a remarkable revolution energized by power of their soul. By appreciating and supporting those who lead from their core spiritual values, we can also help strengthen those same leadership qualities in ourselves.
Excerpted from The Practical Visionary: A New World Guide to Spiritual Growth and Social Change (www.thepracticalvisionary.org).
Corinne McLaughlin is Executive Director of The Center for Visionary Leadership and co-author of Spiritual Politics and Builders of the Dawn. She directed a national task force for President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development, co-founded a spiritual and environmental community (Sirius) in Massachusetts, and is a Fellow of the World Business Academy. She offers trainings in Visionary Leadership: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.visionarylead.org