On vision

by The Editor

TheThingAboutSERIES: Few things better define a good leader than a powerful vision. And any compelling vision has to it, two component parts: on the one hand, a series of concrete steps – for intent must be realised by action; on the other, those values and principles which underpin and motivate for such action – for every good undertaking has the advancement of freedom behind it, and ideals are the aspirational force behind action. Each part can be abused, however, by ignoring the other. Here is how.

On vision

By: Gareth van Onselen

19 February 2013

Any leader must have a vision. Ideally, it is on that basis they are elected to public office and by that standard their decisions and actions are gauged. Thus, being able to articulate their purpose, clearly and cogently, is an essential requirement of their profession.

If they are a great leader, as opposed to a good one, they will be able to convey their vision in an inspiring manner too; for it is one thing to set out and describe one’s goals, quite another to motivate and unite others behind them.

That is not to suggest that a vision itself cannot be inspiring. Any objective, the purpose of which is betterment, should be a source of encouragement. But such noble intent is often lost in the details; formal action is pragmatic and mundane, ideals and principles are what breathe life into rhetoric – they are the aspirational lifeblood of any visionary commitment.

And so one can often tell much about a leader by the manner in which they speak. Those leaders without a vision are dull and dreary, their offer defined by vague blandness, jargon or ‘facts’ – free-floating and never anchored to design or resolve. Beware those leaders who to try to hide a lack of vision behind logistical process; they mask not only a lack of purpose but, often, a threat to freedom as well. Likewise, beware those leaders whose vision is all principle and no hard detail, their unrestrained aspiration is often detached from what is practically possible. Through rhetoric alone they seek to bypass any interrogation which might ground their lofty ideals in a messy reality, an equally misleading endeavour. One must strike a balance between the two.

Those leaders with a vision understand that every undertaking must illustrate and embolden a common purpose and set concrete proposals against the backdrop of those principles and values that underpin them, so that an audience might appreciate the greater good they aspire to achieve.

Few things are better able to motivate for change than an inspiring vision; properly relayed it can have a powerful effect of people who, for the most part, look for a reason to do good, to grow and prosper. Unfortunately, in the other direction, few things can quicker stall or retard progress than an environment defined by a lack of direction or purpose.

And it says much too, about any audience unable to distinguish the one from the other.

An abbreviated version of this column first appeared in the Business Day. For more columns from The Thing About series, click here.

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