The Need for and Meaning of Leadership

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Leadership: Toward a Visionary Approach


Richard D. Young


Leadership is an important part of the human condition. It has been an indispensable and necessary factor in defining civilization through the ages. To understand the past, one studies the leaders who have shaped history. The present is comprehended by looking backwards at great and small leaders, and by examining leaders of today who influence the lives of trillions. Interestingly enough, but quite logically, people look to today’s leaders for what lies ahead. The vision of these contemporary leaders, it is believed, holds the keys to the future. Individuals look to these leaders and their visions of tomorrow in hope of better and more satisfying lives, not simply for themselves, but for their children and future generations to come.

As leadership is of great importance and concern to humankind, then it is reasonable to desire to understand what it is. What is leadership? How do morality and the common good fit into the leadership equation? Are there cultural and environmental considerations at stake in the notion and practice of leadership? What do the experts and researchers say with regard to the differing leadership approaches? Is there a difference, a real distinction, between leadership and management? And, lastly, what is the so-called “visionary leader” that is much discussed in today’s literature?

In this monograph, answers to these vital questions will be touched upon. Based on an extensive literature review, leadership will be examined in order to provide a discussion that will encapsulate, in narrative form, what leadership is and its various distinguishing factors. Additionally, as common sense, practical experience, and the literature dictates, this narrative will place leadership plainly in the spheres of both private and public theory and practice. Nevertheless, in the spirit of public policy research and its import in everyday affairs of government, some emphasis will be placed on leadership in the public sector.

The Need for and Meaning of Leadership

According to renowned author, James MacGergor Burns (1978), in his seminal work entitled Leadership, one of the greatest needs of our times is leadership. Not just any kind of leadership, but as Burns describes it “compelling and creative leadership.” (Burns, Wren ed., 1995, p. 8).

In his criticism, Burns claims that leadership is nowadays universally mediocre, and at times, simply irresponsible. Much of this is to do with our ignorance of the meaning of leadership in modernity. In essence, we are not sure of what leadership is. Is it composed of certain traits (intellect, courage, and a willingness to accept responsibilities)? Is it behavioral, perhaps something such as using persuasion, task competence, or exhibiting confidence? As Burns (p. 9) puts it:

Is leadership simply innovation—cultural or political? Is it essentially inspiration? Mobilization of followers? Goal setting? Goal fulfillment? Is a leader a definer of values? Satisfier of needs? If leaders require followers, who leads whom from where to where, and why? How do leaders lead followers without being wholly led by followers? Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.

But despite this sort of scholarly frustration and his unanswered questions, Burns is nevertheless hopeful that in future scholarship, through an increasing abundance of pointed research and literature, there will inevitably be a yield of positive results in both the understanding and exercise of leadership. In the late 1970s, for example, Burns points out that more than 130 varying definitions of leadership existed. Add to this sum, literally thousands of biographies, writings, and news reports of leaders, and the possibilities for a greater and more “wholistic” understanding of leadership presents themselves. Burns, believes in the decades to come, there is a possibility for what he terms “an intellectual breakthrough” in the field or study of leadership (p.10).

A little over twenty years later, now into the very beginnings of the 21st century, great strides have been made in our learning and understanding of leadership (Nanus, 1992; Hesselbein, Goldsmith, and Beckhard, 1997; Heifetz, 1998; Kotter, 1999; Harper, 2001). While by no means complete, research and literature on the subject of leadership is propelling us forward in the grasp of leadership and its many dimensions. It is a cumulative effect, however, combining older models or theories of leadership with new findings and thought. Hence, Burns’ earlier cry for leadership and its meaning is arguably being addressed in that scholars and practitioners alike have made advances and continue to move ahead with greater comprehension and realization of the term “leadership”—what it is, how it works, and where to look for it.

For instance, Stephen Harper (2001) believes and argues in his nearly 200-page book that leadership is a highly complex matter that involves several vital components. In order to be a leader, one must forge ahead with maximum creativity and vision. As Harper puts it, the “breakthrough leader” must start with ideas, take calculated risks, possess a sense of urgency, have a capacity for “turbulence,” and a bias for action (p. xiii). He offers up and discusses 12 guidelines for leading change (pp. 1-15). These include:

1) Leading change must be a way of life.

2) Leading change is as multifaceted as a diamond. (Change is constant or variant. Leading change is, as such, a many-sided and far-reaching enterprise. It requires leaders that are perceptive and favorably adaptive to change.)

3) Leading change requires commitment from all involved.

4) Leading change means “sloughing off” yesterday and today.

5) Leading change involves avoiding the “boiled frog” syndrome. (If you put a frog in a frying pan and slowly turn up the heat, the frog will not jump out but will rather fry to death. If you put a frog in boiling water, however, it will immediately jump out. Hence, if people in an organization do not sense a momentous gap between where they are and where they need to be, they will stay in their “comfort zone” and, so to speak, “get passed by,” become “obsolete,” or perhaps “perish.”)

6) Leading change must establish relevance.

7) Leading change means asking the right questions.

8) Leading change means creating early victories. (People need to see some initial evidence that a new idea is working and that it produces results).

9) Leading change means recognizing the paradox of change. (Change is again constant. Leading change means understanding that a new idea may need to be changed further along the continuum of time. Thus the “irregularity” and “capriciousness” of change.)

10) Leading change involves creating a learning organization.

11) Leading change means competing against oneself.

12) Leading change means building coalitions.

Bernard Bass, a distinguished professor and director of the Center for Leadership Studies at the State University of New York, is and remains a scholarly and prolific author of leadership and its meaning and variations. He notes, for example, that leadership is a highly complicated and modern concept, which appeared in literature in the first part of the 19th century (Bass, Wren ed., 1995, p. 37). Bass states further that today the definitions of leadership have become so pervasive that its true meaning is difficult to ascertain. He nevertheless attempts to cobble together a definition that has received plentiful attention. Bass sees leadership “as a focal point of group purposes, as a question of personality, as an actor that induces compliance, a discharge of influence, and a personification of certain key behaviors and skills.” He adds to this that leadership is also “a form of persuasion, an interactive relationship(s), and a propensity to achieve goals or bring about results.” (p. 38).

The “effective” leader is likewise defined by internationally known speaker and author Karl Albrecht (1996) in his book, Creating Leaders for Tomorrow. In this work Albrecht declares that, generally speaking, “leadership is the capability to focus human energy to achieve defined outcomes (p. 16).” Having said this, Albrecht states that additionally an effective leader, in working with others, must possess 1) vision and values, 2) direction, 3) persuasion, 4) support, 5) development, and 6) appreciation.

Briefly, for example, Albrecht says that to be a visionary, the leader must be able to see the “big picture.” This means comprehending the current overall situation and circumstances, and then deciding where to go in the future. It also means articulating the purpose and values of the organization and developing a strategy for bringing it forward. As Albrecht states further, “the leader must make these values real and compelling for others.” (pp. 23-24).

Indeed, visionary leadership is a concept that is gaining increasing attention among experts and practitioners in leadership R&D and actual implementation strategies. The National Malcolm Baldrige Quality Program and other similar quality programs are placing emphasis on the theory and practice of visionary leadership and its importance in achieving future organizational goals and objectives (NIST, 2001, pp. 12-13). Burt Nanus, a management professor and director of research at the University of Southern California’s Leadership Institute, has been instrumental in forwarding the definition and meaning of leadership and its relation to visionary thinking. He states that “effective leaders have agendas and that they are totally results oriented. They take on demanding new visions of what is possible and desirable, communicate these visions, and persuade others to become committed to them.” (Nanus, 1992, p. 4).

And how do these experts’ renderings translate into leadership in the public sector? Quite easily, many experts agree, if placed within the proper context.

Private or corporate leadership is, of course, ultimately directed towards profit. In the end, public or governmental leadership is aimed at the common good. Otherwise, leadership is essentially the same in both cases.

Public leaders should seek to “inspire people and mobilize resources in a ‘shared-power’ world to take a kind of collective action in pursuit of the common good” (Bryson and Crosby, 1992, p. xii). Leaders in government must seek, therefore, to understand common, constituent needs and preferences that fall within the realm of civic or “community” needs—local, state, national, or international. Public leaders should strive to meet these communal needs that remain outside the interests and capabilities of corporations, i.e., private businesses and industries. Public leaders must work within the framework of political institutions, laws, and customs. John Bryson and Barbara Crosby, in Leadership for the Common Good, state that in “tackling public problems” (ones that are, e.g., educational, or deal with transportation, criminal justice, natural resources conservation, etc.), public leadership rests on several important factors. These factors are:

( Understanding the social, political, and economic “givens;”

( Understanding the people involved, especially oneself;

( Building teams;

( Nurturing effective and humane organizations, inter-organizational networks, and communities;

( Creating and communicating meaning and effectively employing formal and informal forums as settings for creating and communicating meaning;

( Making and implementing legislative, executive, and administrative policy decisions and effectively employing formal and informal arenas as settings for policy-making and implementation;

( Sanctioning conduct—that is, enforcing constitutions, laws, and norms, and resolving residual conflicts—and effectively employing formal and informal courts as settings for sanctioning conduct;

( Attending to the policy change cycle; and,

( Putting it all together (pp. xii-xiii).

In the following chapters of this monograph, the meaning of leadership is expanded in much greater detail. The next chapter examines leadership as it relates to morality and the common good. This is a significant sequence in this narrative on leadership in that effective leaders must be morally grounded in ethical principles, such as, “right” versus “wrong.” This moral right, certainly in the Judeo-Christian sense, extends to all levels that embody leader intent, behavior, influences, and outcomes.

Leadership, Morality, and the Common Good

The authority of American government originates from the Constitution. The moral authority of government originates from the collective beliefs, attitudes and values of the citizens. Moral authority consists of the felt obligations and duties derived from shared community values, ideas and ideals. From a democratic perspective, the very nature of authority must be moral in form and content. Otherwise, social violence, chaos and coercion will be the norm. Moral authority rests on voluntary consent. Democracy, by definition, cannot exist without values. (Denton, 1999, pp.1-2).

Public leadership consists, among other things, of effectively mobilizing resources to develop and implement public policy. It is done with finesse when a leader’s attributes and skills, vision and creativity, and other contingencies are fully realized and brought to fruition.

But leadership also, most importantly, pertains to ethics and morality. The common good, for instance, is a “shared-value” goal that is intended to benefit society, or some segment of society, to the extent that it makes a positive and beneficial difference in the lives of individuals. “Rightful” and genuine public leaders seek the common good. Generally speaking, whatever their leadership style or approach, traditional or entrepreneurial, public leaders, with decent and noble intent, strive to be accountable to taxpayers and to carry out the laws and those public policies that are decided upon collectively and legitimately.

John Gardner (1993, p. 67) states that people ultimately judge their “leaders in the framework of values.” Honesty, integrity, fairness, and other values come to mind. The rule of law and justice likewise present themselves as moral notions of particular significance. Persons expect in a humane and civilized world to find leaders who are immersed firmly in morality and the common good. People desire not only an effective leader and leadership, but also one that is “good.” For in people’s minds and memories, both recent and aged, it is realized that leaders, and followers as well, can be devoid of morality—truly evil.

Hitler and Stalin were leaders, but as Gardner points out, they were “the kinds of leaders that clearly transgress our moral values” (p. 67). Slobodan Milosevic represents, by way of example, another but more contemporary transgressor. Milosevic is currently before a U.N. tribunal in The Hague being confronted by alleged victims and longtime foes in his war crimes trial. The former Yugoslav leader is charged with oppressing and ordering and sanctioning the killing of thousands of ethnic Albanians.

Osama bin Laden is representative of the newest breed of evil transgressors. His terrorist organization, the Al Qaeda, is responsible for the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Centers in New York City and the Pentagon in our nation’s capitol. Bin Laden is additionally responsible for planning the destruction of a passenger plane that crashed into a small field in rural Pennsylvania. Today, America and other civilized nations of the world are thus engaged in a war on terrorism. It is Osama bin Laden that is the leader and symbol of this terrible new and unconventional war.

Having cited examples of the transgressors, what then constitutes the morally acceptable leader? John Gardner, a renowned and prolific essayist on leadership, and advisor to several U.S. Presidents from the 1950s through the 1980s, attempts to answer this question in his writings.

Gardner acknowledges that defining the moral leader is a difficult task. While he recognizes many contemporary leaders of repute in his time, such as FDR, Eisenhower, and General MacArthur, he concedes that for his purposes of definition such leaders are, at least for him, more easily restricted to Americans or American values. This, believes Gardner, is a less complicated and more relevant approach to understanding the relationship between leadership and ethics. As Americans, Gardner understands a straightforwardness in the notion that Americans, as a society, believe in and uphold the democratic values spelled out in the Declaration of Independence; namely, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Thus moral leadership takes on a connotation that is rooted in American history and culture. To define a moral leader one must, therefore, define a leader who possesses and behaves in appropriate ways that are based on our interpretation of a democratic government. This for Gardner means people desire and covet leaders who serve the common good and at the same time recognize individual needs. For instance, people want equality, justice, and truthfulness. Leaders who exhibit this fair well in American society, says Gardner.

Gardner, following German philosopher’s Immanuel Kant’s moral dictum, further holds that leaders should look upon individuals as “ends in themselves, not simply as a means to an end” (p. 73). Leaders must constantly look to the common good that benefits an individual(s) in society, and not approve or sanction any means to merely get there. Bad or wrongful actions on the part of a leader to accomplish a beneficial end, nullifies the moral outcome. For Gardner, quite simply, “the means does not justify the ends.”

Thus for Gardner “we cannot approve of leadership that betrays the common good for any immoral means and ways, especially for purposes of personal gain or reward” (p.73). This self-gratification achieved by any means is “antithetical to American culture and is nothing less than a universal moral turpitude.” Gardner cites Hitler’s willingness to sacrifice his own people, the entirety of the German populace, to accomplish his own selfish ends.

Rather, Gardner feels that as Americans and civilized peoples, “we expect our leaders to be constantly sensitive to our needs as constituents or followers.” Public leaders have a duty and responsibility to respond to our basic, common needs. A leader is one who is responsive and caring. Additionally, a moral leader is invariably fair and consistent.

Within the context of shared values, a leader fosters and allows individuals to grow, to express his or her talents and energies. Hence, Gardner defines a moral leader as an “enabler,” a person who assists us in reaching our potentialities. (pp. 73-74).

Also, John Gardner believes that as ethical leaders it is important to remember that one must unleash human potentialities within the framework of laws and customs. Society is made up of both written and unwritten rules and principles. A leader must recognize this and direct ones’ followers towards society’s embedded beliefs by established or acceptable rules of law. Ultimately, these beliefs and laws are embraced by America’s concepts of what is generally referred to as the common good, the commonwealth, or the public interest (p. 97). A leader, a moral leader, must recognize therefore that ethical thought and behavior is essential to being not simply a leader, but a “good” leader. This is someone who distinguishes readily right from wrong, good from bad, and consistently seeks “shared values,” that when taken together, constitute nothing less than “the common or public good.”

Leaders and Followers

A topic of considerable discussion among experts in the study of leadership is one that considers the relationship between leaders and followers. Experts claim that in order to have a thorough or perceptive understanding of leadership, individuals must decipher the complex interaction of the so-called “leader-follower phenomena.” Several scholars have attempted to explore and answer fundamental questions regarding this interaction, most particularly Gardner (1987), Rost (1991), and Koehler and Pankowski (1996).1 In the following narrative, this leader-follower relationship will be briefly discussed.

John Gardner, in an article entitled simply Leaders and Followers, puts forward several notions that shed some light on this topic. He states that leaders are many times not “as much in charge as they may seem to be” (Gardner, Wren ed., 1995, p. 185). The reason why this is so is that influence and pressure are, so to speak, a “two-way street.” In other words, leaders affect their constituencies and in return constituencies affect their leaders. This is somewhat similar to other relationships that have been often referred to in the literature; e.g., political journalists and politicians, doctors and their patients, preachers and their congregations. Relationships are, in this sense, only as valid as to the viability and genuine exchange between two objects (persons or groups)—in this case the leader and follower.

Gardner also places some emphasis on the concept held by Max Weber and Georg Simmel that leaders can maintain authority (respect) only as long as followers believe in or have trust in their authority. But Gardner makes a distinction at this juncture to fit more with contemporary behavioral and situational theories. This distinction is among political leaders and other leaders, especially business or government leaders (p. 186).

In politics, Gardner says, individuals freely pick and chose their leaders. Leaders must therefore actively compete and persuade people that they are (or will be) good stewards of the electorate and that their political and policy ideas and actions will be beneficial to constituency needs and preferences. However, corporate as well as non-elected government leaders have more differential treatment from their employees. Workers are by virtue of their employment conditions required to carry out the duties and responsibilities of their positions. They are required to obey their bosses’ instructions and wishes. As Gardner puts it, “They are supposed to accept their superiors, the organizational hierarchy, and act on orders from above” (p. 186).

But here Gardner is quick to point out that employees often don’t follow through. This is because many corporate or government executives think that their hierarchical rank and authority alone makes them leaders. This, for Gardner, is a falsehood. He states that corporate and government leaders can possess “subordinates,” but not necessarily “followers.” Why is this so? Gardner says, first and foremost, that “a following must be earned” (p. 186). A follower is only a true follower if he or she, as an employee, willingly accepts their superior’s leadership, not just their rank. After all, leadership involves reasonableness, competence, trust, steadiness, etc. For Gardner, only those superiors that exhibit the traits and characteristics that are commonly defined as “leadership” will genuinely have followers who are truly inspired, trusting and willing to work proactively to carry out leader instructions and directives.

Gardner also makes another couple of points worth mentioning in his discussion of leaders and their relation to followers. First, he believes that leaders, with the exception of those in a military environment, are wise to let the decision-making process be, to the extent possible, a participative one between leaders and followers. Adequate and authentic input from followers in decision-making permits followers to take ownership of and be committed to the leader’s goals and objectives—as well as a “shared” vision. While some situations require a sharp distinction between leaders and followers, e.g., an armed mission or campaign by the police or military, or a heavily task-oriented or assembly-line assignment such as the “making of widgets,” most employment environments are conducive to more informal, less structured leader-follower arrangements. Gardner (p. 187) states:

The two-way conversation between leaders and followers is deeply influenced by the expectations of the followers. Any social group, if it is more than a crowd of unrelated strangers, has certain shared needs, aspirations, values, hopes and fears. The group creates norms that tend to control the behavior of its members, and these norms constitute the social order. It is in this context that leaders arise, and it is this context that determines what kinds of leaders will emerge and what will be expected of them. A loyal constituency is won when people consciously or unconsciously judge the leader to be capable of solving their problems and meeting their needs, [and] when the leader is seen symbolizing their norms… . (Note: bracketed word added.)

A second and related point that Gardner makes is a rather obvious one, but one that is often overlooked. It is simply that “followers like to be treated with consideration by their leaders.” This concern and thoughtfulness expressed towards a follower is a “heavy-lifter tool” or behavior that invariably produces results for the leader. Followers like to employ their own initiatives whenever possible. Leaders who grasp this and give due consideration to merging leader-follower needs, believes Gardner, achieve greater and more frequent successes. As such, leader consideration and employee input leads to building or providing a better or improved leader-follower relationship and, consequently, better and improved products and services. (p. 187).

Similarly, San Diego professor Joseph Rost, supports and enhances Gardner’s discussion on the interaction between leaders and followers. Rost, while acknowledging the contributions of Gardner and another contemporary, J. F. Ford, highlights what he believes to be the emerging new paradigm of the concept “leader-follower.” In doing so, he outlines what he considers to be the five main points of this new concept:

1) Strictly those who participate in the leadership or decision-making process are followers. Those who are passive are not part of the leader-follower equation, i.e., “passive people are not followers.”

2) People who are active in the leader-follower relationship can exert large or small influences or contributions. The choice is theirs. The more participation one involves himself or herself in (the relationship), the greater one’s influence, and vice versa.

3) In varying situations, the leader-follower equation can be interchangeable. Followers may become leaders and leaders may become followers. This situation may ebb and flow according to changing circumstances.

4) Similarly, within one particular group or organizational setting, one may assume a leader-type position. In another setting, this same individual may be a follower.

5) Most importantly, leaders and followers are “one relationship.” Their aims and activities are one, mutual and shared. Hence, both are equally important and inseparable in the new leader-follower paradigm. (Rost, Wren ed., 1995, pp. 191-192).

Lastly, Koehler and Pankowski (1996) redefine the traditional notion of leadership and move considerably beyond what they consider the earlier and more simplistic model of leadership as being something whereby an alpha-male gets or strong arms his followers to do what he wants them to do. In their theory of “transformational leadership,” Koehler and Pankowski deem that success in government, namely achieving quality, is not getting or ordering followers to do some work action, but rather, “enabling them as individuals and teams to act in the best interest of the mission, goals, and objectives of the organization.” Koehler and Pankowski go on to define transformational leadership as a procedure or practice of stimulating change and empowering followers to do their best, to improve their skills and abilities, and to “ratchet-up” organizational processes. Koehler and Pankowski deem this empowering of followers as a thoughtful and successful way to instill responsibility and accountability in all forms of follower work and actions. (p. 16).

Leadership: Cultural Considerations and Environmental Pressures

Leadership may also be seen or understood in light of organizational cultures and the influences of outside or external pressures. Plentiful and widespread literature speaks to these important internal and external nuances and in several differing contexts. The following discussion touches on these subjects in hopes of providing a broader grasp of the meaning of leadership.

First, the general distinction or dichotomy of organizations often cited in the literature should be mentioned. Two very different organizational typologies, first clearly identified in 1947 by Max Weber,2 are frequently denoted. These are 1) the traditional or hierarchical “bureaucracy” type, and 2) the informal or fluid organizational model.

The traditional model organization presents a rigid and structured organization where leadership is strictly oriented downward in a hierarchical and officious arrangement. The configuration here is departmentalized and strictly authoritarian in nature. On the other hand, the informal or fluid model is issue-oriented, flexible, adaptive, and inclusive where leadership is shared and non-linear. The fluid organization is “loose” or non-compartmentalized and encourages leader-follower shared-power arrangements conducive to self-motivation, autonomy, and collective action. Thus, in terms of the public sector, one model tackles public policy and problems in a strict, unbending, procedural way, and the other model addresses public issues and predicaments in a shared, mutual, and a freer or more accommodating way. Two sharply distinct organizational forms—two very different mindsets, values, processes, and actions.

It should be noted that while these two models are diametrically opposed to one another, still some experts agree that an organization can contain a “blend” of the two. In some large institutions, for instance, hierarchical arrangements exist but also pockets of shared- power structures exist as well. The U.S. Department of Defense generally is pointed out as a case in point of the blending of both models. In the DOD, for example, the armed forces command structure is tightly intact, but there also exists special departments that allow for creativity and informal leader-follower structures, such as those that deal with weapons design, strategic planning, and general research and development.

Having made this classic distinction in organizational theory, hierarchical and fluid or shared-power, a look at some of the thoughts contained in contemporary writings on the subject will be constructive at this stage. By way of illustration, Edgar Schein, in his book Organizational Culture and Leadership (1992), states that the term “culture” has over the past ten years come to refer also to the “climate and practices” of organizations. This includes also the “espoused credo and values of an organization.” (Schein, Wren ed., 1995, p. 271). He therefore believes, that since this is so, it implies that organizational cultures can also be termed or described as the “right kind of culture,” “a culture of quality,” “an effective culture,” and so on. This is significant in that it allows for the critical analysis of organizational and leadership styles. Studying an organizational culture, feels Schein, allows for observing the shared “behavioral regularities of a group when they interact; the language used, the customs and traditions that develop, and the rituals that are carried out under certain circumstances” (p. 276). Like an anthropologist, an organizational researcher or consultant can, as such, decipher an organization or leadership style by looking carefully at group norms, values, philosophies, rules of the game (implicit rules for getting along), climate (the physical layout of the organization and lines of communication), and shared meanings (ideas or feelings that are shared). In the end, if these norms, values, behaviors, and rituals are effective ones, (or as Schein puts it, “if the organization and/or its leadership are ‘functional’ vis-à-vis ‘dysfunctional’”), then a correct and useful cultural determination can be made (p.281).

Another interesting view of organizational culture and leadership is discussed by authors Terrance Deal and Alan Kennedy (1982). They attempt to describe what constitutes a “strong culture.” Deal and Kennedy define organizations as human, living institutions. As they state in their book Corporate Cultures, organizations must be perceived not as “plush buildings, bottom lines, strategic analysis, or five-year plans” (Deal and Kennedy, Wren ed., 1995, p. 282). Rather, organizations must first be understood as persons, a group of human beings that coexist together in a culture of integrated values, ideas, and customs. A strong culture is one that allows for 1) “a system of informal rules that spells out how people are to behave most of the time, and 2) one that enables people to feel better about what they do, so they are more likely to work harder” (p. 293). For Deal and Kennedy a strong organizational culture is additionally one that possesses the following characteristics:

( An environment where employees feel secure and are empowered to be creative and take calculated risks;

( An environment where employees “believe in something” (the organization’s vision, mission, goals, etc.);

( A workplace where top management actively encourages training and learning experiences;

( An environment that maximizes communication, along lines both vertically and horizontally (e.g., this includes an open door policy that gives employees access to everyone in the organization);

( An environment that regularly exercises ritual, ceremony, and play (e.g., organization-wide celebrations, special recognition for performance excellence, employee team sports events, or informal get-togethers for socializing purposes); and,

( An atmosphere where management reinforces organizational values on a regular basis (pp. 284-293).

Stephen Harper (2001) affirms these views in his work and study of “visionary” organizations and leadership. He states that it is imperative that organizational strategies must place “a premium on its human resources” (p. 157). He continues by stating that successful organizational cultures are those that foster policies that “attract, motivate, and retain people who are energetic and innovative and who desire to be part of an organization, public or private, that strives to improve services and products and meet emerging needs.” Harper highlights the notion of organizations that are sensitive to emerging customer needs. He asserts that visionary executives that look to future opportunities and invest resources in tomorrow’s budding needs meet and sustain institutional viability. He observes that Peter Drucker says it is important for an organization and its leadership to be forward-thinking, that is, not only to invest resources in what comprises “today’s breadwinners, but also what constitutes tomorrow’s breadwinners.” (Harper, 2001, p. 158).

Finally, a few closing words on environmental pressures. All organizations and leaders face outside or external pressures. More particularly, public sector organizational leaders must be continuously attentive to constituent needs that, by law, are intended or authorized to be addressed. Public leaders must pursue, via the application of resources at their disposal, with the greatest efficiency and effectiveness possible, and with due reasonableness, the public’s common good as it presents itself in all of its manifestations. In carrying out these public responsibilities, without fail, various social and economic pressures invariably come to bear and must be contended with in some appropriate manner. Leaders and their organizations must as a result meet these challenges through understanding, competence, and the powers and wherewithal they possess.

Burt Nanus (1992) states that a key to meeting environmental pressures is for leaders to think about the future. He asks essentially, “What are the future environmental threats and opportunities one should be strategically thinking about in order to be prepared to meet tomorrow’s challenges?” (pp. 82-96). Nanus declares in his narrative:

To start thinking about the future, identify all the categories of relevant developments. For most organizations, these include future changes in the needs and wants served by the organization, in the major stakeholders, and in the economic and social, political, and technological environments. An additional category of “other” is sufficient to catch anything else of importance. (p. 83).

Nanus further offers a useful template of critical questions to ask regarding future and external “developments.” These include seven key questions as follows:

1) Generally speaking, what topmost changes are expected in the needs and desires served by the organization in the future?

2) What are, more specifically, the changes expected as relates to the organization’s stakeholders?

3) What changes are expected in the upcoming economic environment?

4) What changes are expected in the social environments of the future?

5) What changes are expected in the shifting political environments?

6) What technologies are to be expected in the future?

7) What “other” major environmental changes are expected that may influence or exert pressures on the organization and its leadership? (p. 84).

Leadership Approaches

Beginning in the year c. 1910, leadership began to be studied or researched in more formal and varying ways. (See Chemers, 1984, Wren ed., 1995, pp. 83-99). Since then, differing theories or approaches have emerged. According to the literature on leadership theories, many researchers and experts have typically focused on the “narrower aspects” of the concept of leadership and its practices and, as a result, have tended to represent leadership in a partial or limited way (Yukl, 1994, pp. 11-15). Thus, leadership has frequently been defined and analyzed in a categorical or episodic sense. Gary Yukl, in Leadership in Organizations (3rd Edition), identifies these categories (or periods) of leadership research in terms of basically four approaches: 1) the trait approach, 2) the behavior approach, 3) the power-influence approach, and 4) the situational approach (p. 11).

Additionally, Yukl recognizes that some researchers have mixed and matched some of these approaches into hybrid-forms of leadership theory and practice. He acknowledges, for example, that some of these “include participative leadership, charismatic leadership, and ‘decision group’ leadership” (p. 11).

In the discussion which follows, these varying leadership approaches will be discussed as based on the works of several experts in leadership theories and their practical applications. (Yukl, 1994; Chemers, 1984; Burns, 1978; Couto, 1993; Nadler and Tushman, 1990; Stogdill, 1948; Kirkpatrick and Locke, 1991; Hersey and Blanchard, 1979; Gardner, 1993; Manz and Sims, Jr., 1991; Wren and Swatez, 1995; Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy, 1993).

The Trait Approach

The early part of the 20th century saw researchers in management studies begin to piece together a leadership theory that placed considerable emphasis on the personal traits or attributes of leaders. The underlying premise of the so-called “trait approach,” is that leaders are different from other people in respect to the particular characteristics or traits that they possess. The trait approach states that certain individuals are leaders because they possess extraordinary attributes, such as energy, intellect, persuasiveness, and “uncanny foresight.” (Yukl, p. 12). Gardner (1993), drawing on the works of Ralph Stogdill, Bernard Bass, and Edwin Hollander, among other experts, provides a taxonomy of attributes as follows: 1) physical vitality and stamina, 2) intelligence and judgment-in-action, 3) willingness (eagerness) to accept responsibilities, 4) task competence, 5) understanding of followers/constituents and their needs, 6) skill in dealing with people, 7) need to achieve, 8) capacity to motivate, 9) courage, resolution, steadiness, 10) capacity to win and hold trust, 11) capacity to manage, decide, set priorities, 12) confidence, 13) ascendance, dominance, assertiveness, and 14) adaptability, flexibility of approach (pp. 48-66). According to Gardner, it is additionally important to note that a leader is not necessarily one who possesses one or all of these traits, but rather a leader is—per “the trait theory generally applied”—one who comprises some acceptable proportion of the traits mentioned above.

Ralph Stogdill, in 1948, conducted a landmark and comprehensive study of more than 120 trait studies. His conclusion was that no “discernable reliability or coherent patterns existed” (Stogdill, Wren ed., 1995, p. 84). This conclusion convinced Stogdill that traits in-and-by themselves were not enough to adequately define and explain the concept of leadership. Resulting evidence and findings eventually affirmed among experts in leadership theory that it was wise to explore personal traits and attributes of leaders in light of other factors such as “behaviors and effectiveness” (Yukl, p. 12).

The Behavioral Approach

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the study of behaviorism in the fields of psychology and management science began to take hold. Leadership researchers began to identify a host of fairly consistent behavioral patterns among leaders. These included, for instance, styles that eventually took on designations as “autocratic,” “democratic,” and “laissez-faire.” Hersey and Blanchard (1979) and Chemers (1984) are mentionable researchers in the analysis and critique of the behavioral approach to leadership and these particular styles (autocratic, etc.).

It is of interest to note that the autocratic style is, as the name implies, an authoritative and non-participatory approach to leading others. It is normally characterized as control-oriented and inflexible. Conversely, the democratic style is one that encourages participation and equalitarian principles of self-rule. The laissez-faire category is a more hands-off, self-determining, and tolerant approach to leading.

Yukl (1994) states that researchers and experts began to study the behavior of leaders in two ways. First, they began to look more deliberately and systematically at how leaders actually performed their work. Specifically, leadership researchers evaluated carefully how managers or leaders used their time. This led to the conceptualizing of roles, functions, and duties (pp. 12-13). Activities of leaders such as planning, organizing, directing, staffing, communicating, etc. took on a new relevance. Second, researchers and experts began to compare these managerial-type functions among leaders to determine who were more or less effective in their jobs. Chemers (1984) states that the main tool for research here was the use of questionnaires, such as the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire or LBDQ3 (Chemers, Wren ed., 1995, p. 85).

Again, similar to the narrow construct of the trait theory, continuing studies found problems with a single approach to explaining and understanding the multi-faceted notion and practice of leadership.

The Power-Influence Approach

The power-influence approach is an effort employed by researchers that came about to make sense of what leadership is and its various practices by methodically examining how power is used to sway others. This power-influence approach, especially as regards others, extends not only to subordinates as followers, but also to colleagues or peers, superiors and all other persons inside and outside of an organization (private or public). Thus, this approach “searches to explain leadership effectiveness in terms of the amount and kind of power possessed by the leader and how that power is exercised” (Yukl, p. 13).

Two differing perspectives are taken among researchers and experts utilizing the power-influence approach. The first view is one that encapsulates the proverbial cause and effect relationship, namely, “leaders act and followers react.” This is exclusively a one-way relational phenomenon and fits neatly within the confines of behaviorism’s autocratic style. The unidirectional equation for this power-influence view might look like this: L > F = FA (Leader influences follower and follower acts). The second view is more of a compatible two-way relationship where the leader and follower exert influence on one another. Hence power resides in both leaders and followers. This fits closely with the behaviorist view of an equalitarian or reciprocal leader-follower relationship. (See Yukl, 1994, Chapters 7 and 8; also see “Power, Influence, and Influence Tactics,” Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy, 1993).

The Situational-Contingency Approach

A. K. Korman, in 1966, reviewed more than 25 top management and leadership studies of his time. He found that no one leadership approach, by itself, could identify or predict leadership effectiveness because situations change. He concluded, therefore, “this suggests that since situations change, so must leadership styles and approaches” (Hersey and Blanchard, Wren ed., 1995, p. 148).

The situational approach to understanding leaders and their actions focuses on several factors. One such factor is the nature or kind of work an organization, or an organizational unit, does or performs. Another closely related factor is of course the particular circumstances and pressures, internal and/or external, which are occurring at any one particular time. A third factor would, according to the literature, involve the “characteristics of followers.” (See Yukl, pp. 13-14).

In other words, the situational approach is thus a leadership hypothesis that states that leaders (incl., their attendant traits and behaviors) are unavoidably affected by situations that result from organizational cultures, circumstantial influences, and the characteristics (distinctiveness) of followers. A definition or understanding of leaders and their effectiveness, as such, requires the all-important placing of them (leaders) within a “situational” context.

Also, Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard have been time after time at the cutting-edge in their analysis and interpretation of the situational approach to leadership. In their view, Hersey and Blanchard place considerable emphasis on the relationship between the leader and his or her followers, while spotlighting the notion of follower “readiness.” They define the leadership situational approach in the following way.

Situational Leadership® is an attempt to demonstrate the appropriate relationship between the leader’s behavior and a particular aspect of the situation—the readiness level exhibited by the followers. According to the model, the leader must remain sensitive to the follower’s level of readiness. As personal problems arise, new tasks are assigned, or new goals are established, the level of readiness may change. The model prescribes that leaders should adjust their behavior accordingly. Thus, situational leadership assumes a dynamic interaction where the readiness level of followers may change and where the leader’s behavior must change appropriately in order to maintain the performance of followers. (Hersey and Blanchard, Wren ed., 1995, p. 207).

Finally, a closing word on the “contingency” aspect of the situational leader approach. By this it is meant that many researchers use the term situational-contingency when referring to a leader’s effectiveness as it relates to differing trait patterns and/or behaviors when they coincide with differing situations. Consequently, variable personal characteristics and behaviors are “optimal” or “more effective” in certain situations than others. This is contrasted with Yukl’s (1994, p. 14) more “universal theories” of situational leadership. (See Yukl, Chapter 10).

Motivational Approaches

Another significant leadership approach pertains to or relies heavily on motivational theory. Many experts believe that the most significant factor associated with good leadership is the skill or ability to motivate one’s followers. Two researchers and experts that stand out in this field of inquiry are Abraham Maslow and Frederick Herzberg.

Maslow’s theory of motivation is commonly referred to as the “hierarchy of needs.” (See A. H. Malsow’s Motivation and Personality, 1954). He theorizes that individuals are motivated by the satisfying of five basic needs (see Figure below). These needs, he further contends, must be satisfied in a successive fashion, proceeding from the most basic physiological needs to the highest need which he designates as “self-actualization.” Leaders who comprehend this need theory and apply correct motivational techniques in the practice of leadership will, according to Maslow, succeed most. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is most often portrayed in pyramid-type form or illustration as follows:


Hierarchy of Needs

Herzberg’s (1966) approach is called simply the “two-factor theory.” This theory, based on extensive research of professionals and their work, states that what truly motivates or satisfies workers (designated as “motivators”) can be placed into five categories. These are 1) advancement and growth, 2) responsibility, 3) the work itself, 4) recognition, and 5) achievement. Conversely, Herzberg describes factors that add or contribute less value to the satisfaction of professionals as “hygiene factors.” These non-motivators or diminished motivators, so to speak, include 1) supervision, 2) working conditions, 3) co-workers, 4) pay, 5) policies and procedures, and 6) job security. According to one interpretation of Herzberg, “no matter the degree to which leaders enhance compensation, working conditions, and other so-called hygiene factors, followers will not exert any additional effort in their work and its related tasks” (Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy, 1993, Wren ed., 1995, p. 333).

The Hero-Charismatic Approaches

Before concluding this section on leadership approaches, a few words on what Manz and Sims (1991) call “SuperLeadership.” A classic leadership approach to leaders’ styles, and comprehending them, is often referred to the hero or charismatic one. As Gardner states the diversity of examples of this approach extends back as far as written history—Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, William the Conqueror, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Robert E. Lee, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. These represent, for example, leaders who serve as models of heroic leadership, combining the traits and skills and actions of the highest order of military (and political as well) expertise. The hero-charismatic approach states that in order to understand, and in other cases to emulate leadership, one should analyze historical figures, ancient and/or contemporary, who were or are considered to embody great (effective) leader abilities and skills.

According to Manz and Sims, this view of leadership is also sometimes called the “strong-man approach.” This is the tough guy style epitomized by Teddy Roosevelt and the roughriders charging up San Juan Hill. Another view in this venue of charismatic leader is that of a “trans-actor.” A trans-actor is a leader who uses goals and rewards to achieve effectiveness. The premise or logic here is “if we achieve X (the goal), then we will receive Y (the reward).” (Manz and Sims, Wren ed., 1995, pp. 213-216).

Two other distinctions can be attributed to the hero-charismatic approach as well. The most contemporary view, which is classified as “charismatic” by many experts, is the visionary hero or leader. (Note: Visionary leadership will be discussed at length later in this paper.) Manz and Sims distinguish this visionary leader as a person “who creates a ‘larger than life’ vision for followers” (p. 216). Hence the leader’s power is conditional on the acceptance of the leader’s vision by employees or followers. The final distinction drawn as to hero-charismatic leaders is, as noted earlier, the “Super-Leader.” This connotation of leadership is neither a “heavy-handed” or autocratic charismatic style as one might imply. Rather, the Super-Leader is where a leader shares power with the followers enabling them to become loci for self-leading and self-sustaining action. Thus commonality of organizational purpose and commitment, activities, and results achievement is mutual, collective or united—ergo, “Super” (p. 216). (See also Nadler and Tushman, Winter 1990, pp. 77-97, for discussion of charismatic approach).

Leadership and Management

A distinction between the meanings of leadership and management is drawn by many experts. One expert and author in particular, John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School, has written several articles and books discussing this distinction. Simply put, his thesis is that effective leadership involves the processes of developing vision and forward-thinking strategies, “dealing with change,” and empowering followers. On the other hand, management involves more precisely the operation of an organizational system or unit and is oriented towards functions such as supervising, planning, budgeting, organizing, controlling, staffing, and so on. Kotter states that this distinction is “neither arbitrary nor semantic.” He also recognizes that leadership is compatible with management and that leaders can manage as well as lead. In many instances also, managers lead as well as manage. (See John P. Kotter’s On What Leaders Really Do, 1999, a book and interpretative compilation based on six articles written and published originally in the Harvard Business Review, between 1979 and 1997).

In this chapter the leader-manager distinction will be briefly discussed.

The Leadership Distinction

Leadership, according to Kotter (May-June 1990), occurs within an organizational setting of some type and involves three main processes. These processes are:

1) Establishing direction (providing vision and strategies for making change);

2) Aligning people (maximizing communication and commitment of followers); and,

3) Motivating and inspiring (creating drive and enthusiasm among followers). (See Kotter, Wren ed., 1995, pp. 116-121).

Establishing direction is a central function of leadership. Its aim is to produce constructive and long-range change for an organization. Kotter, however, is quick to point out in his analysis that leadership’s “setting of direction” is not the same thing as the planning function which he describes as a managerial process, which is deductive in nature, and is aimed at bringing about “orderly results, not change” (Kotter, Wren ed., 1995, pp. 116-117). Establishing direction is more inductive (the result of reasoning from particulars to something more general) in that it is a process whereby leaders seek out “a range of data, patterns, and relationships.” Kotter goes on to interpret this as the developing of a vision for the future, that is, a broad and long-term “goal” for the future. He adds that critical to accomplishing this vision a leader must identify sweeping or wide-range and adaptive strategies (not tactical plans) to accomplish this vision of the future.

Leadership is also distinguished from management in that it focuses on “aligning people vs. the mere organizing and staffing function” (pp. 118-199). Effective leaders, says Kotter, are those who successfully communicate a vision and its attending strategies to those motivated individuals whose cooperation is needed, followers, peers, etc. A leader must “line up” one’s human resources in order to move in the direction that has been articulated for the future. A leader must “talk to” and “use written communications” that align those needed to realize or bring to fruition organizational-wide or across-the-board change. Further, “aligning people” entails “getting people to believe the message and its credibility” (p. 119). This translates into follower commitment. Commitment, accompanied by empowerment, allows for a dedication and autonomy for followers to excel and bring about fundamental change. Simple “organizing and staffing” managerial functions do not embrace this leadership scale or dimension “by any stretch of the imagination.”

Lastly, leadership involves the process of motivating people. This is far different than the management functions that are delegated as controlling and problem solving. As per management, the matter of control is paramount. Controlling is the function of ensuring that policies, procedures or systems are adhered to strictly to conform to quality design and features. Obviously, this is highly managerial in nature. Problem solving is a rational process to establish causes or conditions or situations that require solutions. It is an orchestrated and systematic decision-making process that coincides perfectly with managerial skills and abilities. Motivating people, however, is a leadership process. It means keeping people in the right direction through appealing to their needs as outlined, for example, by Maslow’s and Herzberg’s theories of motivational psychology. This includes feelings of belonging, making a difference, and acknowledgment for a job well done. Kotter states:

Leadership is different. Achieving grand visions always requires an occasional burst of energy. Motivation and inspiration energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one’s life, and the ability to live up to one’s ideas. Such feelings touch us deeply and elicit a powerful response. (p. 120).

The Management Distinction

Good management is essential to the success of organizations both in the private and public spheres. Managerial staff, for example at the top echelons of government and line managers who supervise public services delivered at lower levels of agency or departmental activities, must be qualified and exhibit management skills to achieve and maintain excellent customer service. Leadership, as stated above, is again quite different. The question remains then, “What is management?”

One significant characterization of management is to see it as bringing order to an enterprise. The complexity of organizations, especially large ones, requires that management be in place for the sake of orderliness to provide for efficiency and effectiveness. This is plainly a rational and sensible explanation of the necessity of management and its host of logical and systematic processes and functions.

Indeed the functions of management are probably the best way of understanding what it is and provides for its contrast with leadership as outlined above. The core functions of management are supervising, planning and organizing, controlling and coordinating, and problem solving. Since these functions have been summarized or contrasted in the earlier narrative, just a few definitions will suffice for now and for clarification purposes.

Supervising is, as perceived by a host of experts, almost synonymous with managing. Supervising is typically defined as the overseeing and administering of subordinates in the performance of their duties and responsibilities. Yukl defines it as “improving the performance of subordinates by working with them to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, the scheduling of their work, and the setting of their work goals and objectives” (Yukl, 1994, p. 28).

Planning and organizing are other key functions of management, not leadership per se. Planning is the formulating or setting of short-term goals and objectives, establishing sequential steps and milestones, and allocating resources (financial plan) to execute the plan. Organizing involves the staffing and assignment of tasks, communicating the plan to staff, developing policies and procedures, and monitoring implementation.

Controlling and coordinating includes the managerial processes of checking or confirming scheduled target dates, assuring the quality of services and products, assessing system effectiveness, coordinating efforts of varying participative and /or affected groups, addressing or reconciling disputes, and problem solving in general.

Visionary Leadership

Visionary leadership is meant to be the focal point of this monograph and, specifically, this final chapter. The preceding chapters have been essential to the explanation of this concept of visionary leadership in that they have attempted to place its core meanings and practices in a historical, theoretical, and practical framework. According to Cheryl Mabey in her Making of the Citizen Leader (1992), the “vision theory is a current popular view of leadership—a premier view of the 1990s and the beginnings of the 21st century—wherein the main thrust of the leader is to formulate the future direction of an organization, private or public in nature, and to communicate that vision to others” (Mabey, Wren ed., 1995, p. 312).

In the following discussion, visionary leadership will be defined, i.e., its various roles elucidated, its practicable applications explained, and several other key factors to permit a understanding of its significance in modern day leadership theory and practices.

Visionary Leadership Defined

In its simplest form visionary leadership is about envisioning where an organization should be in a reasonably long-term future, conveying this vision in various ways to others, motivating individuals to share and commit to this vision, and aligning resources and processes to accomplish it. Several experts or authors on leadership have defined visionary leadership and three stand out and merit citing. These include Marshall Sashkin (1989), Burt Nanus (1992), and Stephen Harper (2001).

Sashkin, for example, states:

My theory of effective executive leadership, or visionary leadership, considers not only the leader’s personal characteristics, not only the leader’s behavior, and not only the situation; it considers all three. Only by looking at each of these factors as they relate to one another can we truly understand visionary leadership. Visionary leaders share certain characteristics that are different from personality traits on which early leadership focused. In addition, they have a deep, basic awareness of key situational factors that dictate what leadership approach and actions are required. Furthermore, these leaders not only know what behaviors are required, they can also carry out those behaviors. (Sashkin, Wren ed., 1995, p. 403).

Having premised his visionary leadership on a historical and theoretical basis, Sashkin proceeds to describe the major aspects of his approach in greater detail. Summarizing this, he first states that a visionary leader is one who establishes a vision or “ideal image of the organization and its culture.” Second, a leader constructs a lucid and sound philosophy that concisely describes the vision and then develops methods to attain this in practical terms considering the organization’s unique culture. Third, and finally, a leader “engages on a one-to-one basis with others to initiate and gain support for the vision.” (p. 403).

Nanus, in his book Visionary Leadership: Creating a Compelling Sense of Direction for Your Organization (1992), states that:

There is no more powerful engine driving an organization toward excellence and long-range success than an attractive, worthwhile, and achievable vision of the future, widely shared… there is no mystery about this. Effective leaders have agendas; they are totally result oriented. They adopt challenging new visions of what is both possible and desirable, communicate their visions, and persuade others to become so committed to these new directions that they are eager to lend their resources and energies to make it happen. (pp. 3-4).

Thus, Nanus points out that the “right vision of the future for an organization” is a compelling and acceptable idea, one in which a leader effectively communicates and motivates people to act. The resulting action causes these people and their organization to evolve and, by necessity, make progress (p. 16). In establishing this right vision, Nanus cites four “forces.”

( “The right vision attracts commitment and energizes people.” This is somewhat self-explanatory. In short, individuals are naturally inclined to want and to desire things that they can believe in and commit to, as Nanus describes it, “a significant challenge that befits one’s best efforts.” The right vision must “link up,” as a consequence, with a person’s consciousness, awareness and their needs. If the vision or image or idea of organizational direction has appeal, promise, and benefits to be gained, a person is highly likely to jump on board and to work enthusiastically to make the vision a reality.

( “The right vision creates meaning in workers’ lives.” Individuals need a sense of personal mission, importance and/or self-esteem associated with their work lives. Leadership and management experts universally believe that people who take pride in their work, what they are attempting to do or make, in terms of services and products, are more successful, happier and productive. Therefore, finding meaningfulness on the job, or within the context of one’s work, is paramount to (Maslow’s) the concept or feeling of “self-actualization” or self-worth.

( “The right vision establishes a standard of excellence.” The right vision clearly establishes where an organization is going in the future and also what an organization “stands for.” In effect, this is the same as establishing a standard or norm for organizational success. So in this sense the right vision can also be seen as, or equivalent to, “a touchstone of organizational distinction and quality.”

( “The right vision bridges the present and the future.” Many so-called leaders get so caught up or involved with the day-to-day activities (“problems and details”) of an organization that they spend little or virtually no time on forward-thinking. Hence, no vision and no progress. The right vision must connect today’s organization with tomorrow’s. A visionary leader must dedicate him or herself to future customer needs, future organizational processes, future or long-range organizational products and services. A right vision takes all of these important matters into consideration and serves as a “beacon” and working framework for linking the present organization and all of its components to the emerging future. (pp. 16-18).

Finally, Stephen Harper (2001) writes:

Crafting the company’s [organization’s] vision may be the most important role breakthrough leaders can play in creating a forward-focused company. Breakthrough leadership will only be possible if the company has a clearly articulated vision. The vision serves three purposes. First, it serves as the company’s North Star. All decisions, plans, and activities should be directed toward fulfilling the company’s vision. Second, the vision must be compelling. It should give each person in the company a reason to jump out of bed in the morning. Third, the vision can serve as the glue that binds all the company’s components together. Carlo Burmat, dean of the Duxx Graduate School of Business Leadership in Monterey, Mexico, noted that the role of visioning plays in fostering a collaborative environment. He stated, “Each of us has a fragmented view of how the world works. The leader’s role is to put together and harmonize such views, because only by associating minds in this way can you acquire a full and objective view of the world.” (pp. 30-31). (Note: bracketed word added).

Harper’s use of the term “breakthrough leader,” is his expression for a leader with vision. His book, The Forward-Focused Organization: Visionary Thinking and Breakthrough Leadership to Create Your Company’s Future (2001), is aimed mainly at corporate leadership and organizational success. But his discussion is apropos clearly for public organizations as well.

Harper argues that a vision is crafted with the assistance of, and the keeping in mind of, organizational (private and/or public) workers, stakeholders, customers, suppliers, etc. All of these players are essential to the success of an organization and are therefore needed at varying stages in the articulation and implementation of a vision. For Harper, there are many possible futures, depending of course on the leader’s discretion and the application of organizational components, and pressures and priorities exerted from externalities. Leaders must, working with those organizational resources available, try to narrow down what the vision is and encompasses. While the vision must have a certain clarity about it, it should be broad enough and flexible to allow for unforeseen situations and circumstances.

Once a vision is articulated, everyone necessarily involved in bringing about its realization should see and understand the same vision and all of its probable intricacies and distinctions. The leader has a responsibility to put this vision all together in a cohesive and understandable form or image of the future. Through the power of persuasion, the leader keeps the vision alive and interesting, something which unequivocally has merit and is worthy of effort. Harper states further that visionary leaders must be courageous (bold, willing to take risks, and desirous of letting go of the past), resilient (firm in some cases and flexible in others), and decisive (possess a sense of urgency, be earnest and resolute). (pp. 31-34).

Visionary Leadership Roles

The preceding section presented an overview of three definitions of visionary leadership. Visionary leadership is putting together a shared vision or image of an organization for the long-term future, energizing staff and other key stakeholders, achieving long-standing commitments, and working together or collaboratively to bring the vision to completion. To further the meaning of visionary leadership, Burt Nanus (1992) analyzes the roles of visionary leaders and distills them down to four: 1) direction setter, 2) change agent, 3) spokesperson, and 4) coach. (See pp. 10-15).

Prior to discussing these four visionary leadership roles, however, Nanus predicates them on possession and demonstration of key skills or abilities (pp. 11-12). First, Nanus believes a visionary leader must be capable of effectively communicating with managers and other employees within an organization. This requires the leader to provide “guidance, encouragement, and motivation.” Next, or second, a visionary leader must comprehend the outside environment and be capable of reacting appropriately to its threats and opportunities. This includes most importantly being able to “relate skillfully” with key individuals external to an organization, but nevertheless essential to it (“investors, customers, etc.”). Third, a visionary leader must be instrumental in shaping and affecting organizational practices, procedures, products, and services. A leader in this sense must be involved or rather engrossed in an organization to bring about and sustain excellence while preparing and leading the way to the future—a successfully achieved vision. And lastly, and a logical extension to the former leadership skill or ability, a visionary leader must have or develop a niche for “anticipating the future.” This niche is an imaginative, yet data-based ability to assess future customer needs, technologies, and so forth. This includes the capability of aligning organizational resources in order to be prepared to meet these emerging needs and changes.

With this background in mind, the first visionary leadership role Nanus (1992) discusses as necessary to being effective is the direction setter. The direction setter role is one where a leader presents a vision, a convincing image or target for an organization to achieve in the future, and involves people from the “get-go.” This for many experts in the study and practice of leadership is the essence of visionary leadership. As a direction setter, a leader presents a vision, communicates it, motivates worker and colleagues, and convinces people that it is the right direction to proceed and encourages participation on all levels and at all stages of progress towards the vision. (p. 13).

Change agent is the appellation given to the second critical role a visionary leader must play. In the context of change, the external environment is central. Economic, social, technological, and political changes occur continuously, some dramatic and others subtle in nature. Indeed, customer needs and preferences change as do those of other organizational stakeholders. Effective leaders must be constantly attuned to these changes and think ahead to potential changes and changeability. This ensures that the leader is prepared for any situations or circumstances that may threaten organizational success for the present and, most importantly, for the future. Finally, as stated earlier in this monograph, flexibility and calculated risk taking are also important in a changing environment. (pp. 13-14).

The third indispensable role of a visionary leader is that of spokesperson. Getting the “message” out, so to speak, is a significant part of envisioning the future of an organization. An effective leader is also a person who knows and appreciates the many available forms of communication available in explaining and building support for a vision of the future. The leader, as spokesperson for the vision, must communicate a message that strikes the right chord with everyone involved with or touched by the organizational vision—internally and externally. It must be a message, as Nanus puts it, which is “worthwhile, attractive, and exciting about the future of the organization.” (p. 14).

And last, or fourth, an effective visionary leader is tantamount to being a good coach. By this it is meant that a leader must use teamwork to achieve the stated vision. A leader empowers his or her “players” to work together, to coordinate their efforts or activities, toward “winning” or achieving an organizational vision. The leader, as coach, keeps people focused on realizing the vision by directing, encouraging, and building trust among the many players that are crucial to an organization and its vision of the future. In some cases, it can be argued that the leader as coach, might more appropriately be designated a “player-coach.” This would be a leader who, like the legendary Boston Celtic’s Bill Russell, or perhaps a Michael Jordan, both “played as well as coached.” Today’s corporate examples or equivalents would include Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Amazon’s Jeffery Bezo, or Apple’s Steve Jobs. A question one might ask, “In public service, what visionary leaders stand out that exhibit or embody this coach-player role style, or for even that matter, simply coach style?” (Note: For further discussion on visionary leader roles see Hesselbein, Goldsmith, and Beckhard, eds., The Leader of the Future: New Visions, Strategies, and Practices for the Next Era, 1997).

Visionary Leadership in Action

Visionary leadership is a concept that can be expounded upon and understood through literature and theory. But of greater significance is the reality of visionary leadership carried out in a host of concrete actions, proceedings, and events. In this section, visionary leadership will be looked at in the active sense as it falls within the spheres of movement, change, and time. Obviously, while doing visionary leadership is different from talking about or analyzing it, the medium used here will be necessarily a written one. This is inescapable. In any case, the emphasis placed on the following content and discussion should be seen strongly by the reader to be one that implies or means acting as opposed to one that is merely theoretical or ideological.

Harper (2001) states that leaders are facing an era of rapid or “accelerating” change. Hence, timing is critical to being an effective visionary leader. In order to cope satisfactorily (competently) with this acceleration of change, associated principally with the external environment, leaders exercise the distinct competencies of anticipation, speed, agility, and perceptiveness. (pp. 61-78)

By anticipation, it is meant that visionary leaders must “proactively” examine the external environment to discover changes that may positively or negatively impact the organization. Leaders should also actively encourage workers to be cognizant of change factors outside the organization and to keep the organization’s leaders and managers aware of such changes. Being “perceptive, nimble and innovative” in such endeavors will benefit the organization universally (p. 62). Additionally, the practice of using “what if” type scenarios is beneficial to leaders and their anticipatory capabilities. Regularly considering and discussing possible scenarios that “may occur” in the future, keeps the visionary leader focused and prepared for a variety of potentialities. The creation of contingency plans may be useful for some likely scenarios. (p. 63).

Besides Harper (2001), other leadership and management authors believe that speed is crucial to staying competitive, responding quickly to customer needs, and saving money. (See Grant and Gnyawali, May-June 1995; McKenna, September 1997; LeBoeuf, 1993; Reinhardt, December 1997; Carnevale, 1990). Experts agree that in today’s world of commerce and trade, including most public sector areas as well, being fast or prompt in meeting customer or constituent needs is all-important. Those organizations that have a competitive edge, or focus on excellence or benchmarks in their efforts and results, are normally considered successful and are those consistently relied upon to provide needed services and products. Visionary leaders see speed as a capability that must be mastered in order to satisfy customers who want or desire “immediate fulfillment” (gratification). Fast, efficient, and friendly service is, for example, what people want when dealing with governmental entities. Red-tape, long lines, rude civil servants, etc. should and must be a thing of the past. The public expects and should receive the highest quality service possible from public entities and, again, this means speed. Technology and Web-based systems are, for example, new ways of achieving this new rapidity in product and service delivery. (pp. 64-68).

Agility is another term that is becoming increasingly associated with visionary leadership. The National Baldrige Program defines it as “a capacity for rapid change and flexibility” (NIST, p. 2). Similarly, Harper (2001, p. 70) declares that “agility is the ability to turn on a dime.” Agility is, therefore, the capacity for a leader to see ahead in terms of what lies ahead for an organization (perceptiveness). It also includes the capacity for being prepared as well as flexible in order to make timely changes or adjustments to thwart threats and take advantage of opportunities. Agility has several integral components:

( The ability to develop and make available new and desirable products and services.

( The ability to enter new markets or connect with new constituencies.

( The ability to adjust and respond to changing customer needs.

( The ability to adjust swiftly from one organizational process or procedure to another.

( The ability to compress time in the delivery of goods and services. (p. 70).

Perceptiveness is another fundamental capacity of the visionary leader in action. Leaders, according to experts and practitioners alike, must discern the intricacies and changeability of the external environment. This insightfulness or acuity must be constantly exercised and appropriate responses must occur sooner rather than later. In those cases where opportunities are perceived, then leaders must act. Lead-time is also important to organizational success; hence, visionary leaders must have their “radar screens” up at all times. They must identify emerging or potential opportunities, prepare strategies and marshal the resources needed, and get in and out (serve or produce at opportune times) to maximize success or achievement. (pp. 75-76).

Visionary Criteria

A vision that a leader constructs is an image, an idea, or mental model of a future organization—its processes, its services or products, etc. This has been the thrust of the discussion in this chapter. With this in mind, what is the criteria, or perhaps better stated, what is fundamental to a vision as conceived and realized by a leader? The criteria of a vision can be somewhat exhaustive, but such a discussion or analysis inevitably leads to ever-increasing complexities and seemingly endless explanations. Thus, here, in this section, an attempt to succinctly express what constitutes a vision, i.e., one constructed by a visionary leader, will be given. To do this, seven criteria or “special properties” of a vision will be enumerated. (See Nanus, 1992, pp. 28-30).

1) Appropriateness. A vision for an organization must fit appropriately its “history, culture, and values.” It must be a vision that takes into account the past and the current status of the organization and, at the same time, be something suitable and realistic for the organization’s foreseeable future.

2) Idealistic. A vision must convey something which is hopeful and positive. A vision should make a difference that is value-laden and reflects “ high ideas.” It should be a vision that is noteworthy and productive, perhaps even something that is momentous or revolutionary.

3) Purposeful and Credible. A vision must also be purposeful or focused on achieving some plausible aim. The vision should be clear and give followers and affected others a meaningful sense of direction. Is the vision and the path to its realization a valid one? Does it begat true focus and offer a better future?

4) Inspirational. A vision must motivate people to believe and join in, become part of the making of a better tomorrow. The vision of a new organizational “push” should inspire individuals and encourage them to be fully committed. People should be energized and eager to bring about the vision.

5) Understandable. Is the vision clear and comprehensible? If it is ambiguous or sketchy, or simply too difficult to understand, then it is a vision that is lost in its very beginnings and is doomed to failure. Leaders must work particularly hard to communicate a vision that can not only be grasped, but also embraced by others. A leader must therefore be knowledgeable of every aspect related to the vision and capable of relaying this to others.

6) Unique. Every organization is distinctive in some way or fashion. An organization is somehow exceptional in its history, traditions, activities, etc. A vision must unavoidably reflect this uniqueness.

7) Ambitious. Visions overreach and are necessarily bold, resolute, and often sweeping in nature. They require courage and steadfastness. Frequently, they require “sacrifices and emotional investment.” (pp. 28-29).

The Vision Review

Nanus (1992) points out that all organizations, private or public, are moving forward in time or as he states it “every organization has its own momentum” (p. 56). This momentum may be slow- or fast-paced depending on an organization’s purpose, processes, and outcomes.

Plotting organizational movement is essential to knowing its “status” at any given point in time. This plotting of momentum, in other words, allows leaders to measure and comprehend where an organization is and where it is likely to go. The “future tense” aspect of the plotting of momentum is revealing in that it indicates where the organizational vision is, that is its status, but equally important, “what it indeed is to be.” Hence, this charting or plotting of organizational momentum is of great significance as it relates to leaders and their vision of an organization.

Asking four key questions are associated with this plotting (or gauging) of organizational momentum as to where and what a vision is. These questions are what Nanus calls “the vision audit” (pp. 56-57). They are:

1) Does the organization have a clear and distinct vision? In what way is this vision stated? If there is a stated vision, then what exactly is it?

2) If the organization continues as is, or “on its current path,” where in fact will it be in the next ten years? Concluding this, is this where the organization should be?

3) Are all stakeholders (workers, followers, etc.) connected with the organization aware of and versed on the vision? Are these people in the organization on-board with the vision? In other words, are they motivated and committed to it?

4) Per the direction of the organization, are the processes, systems, procedures, activities, and other organizational components supportive of the vision?

In passing, it should be acknowledged that based on an extensive literature review, including observations of public agencies and units, hard evidence for organizations’ possessing a clear and distinct vision is small. And, with regard to the exercising of a “vision review or audit,” evidence here is additionally limited to only a few organizations. One consistent problem observed among public agencies is that often the mission statement of the agency is mistakenly called a vision statement.


In the previous discussion, leadership has been examined in light of some of the most renowned authors and experts in the world. The need for and meaning of leadership were reviewed and several key elements were pointed out, such as the using of maximum creativity, the creating of a vision, the setting of direction, the aligning of resources, the motivating of followers, and so forth. Next, morality and the common good were examined briefly showing that shared values and ideas were of great significance. The common good or the “commonwealth” was determined to be a moral imperative of leaders and their actions. Also, leadership was seen in respect to various cultural considerations and external pressures or influences. No leader exists within a vacuum. Changing situations and circumstances come inevitably to bear on what leaders think and do.

Leadership approaches, as definitional categories or theories, were also looked at in this monograph. Obviously, research in leadership theory and practice has evolved over the past decades since it became a disciplined study in the early part of the 20th century. Experts and researchers offer up varying explanations and studies of leadership and its numerous components. Those presented in the preceding chapters include, the trait approach, the behavior approach, the power-influence approach, the situational-contingency approach, the hero-charismatic approach, and Maslow’s and Herzberg’s motivational interpretations.

Distinctions were additionally analyzed between leadership and management. Leading and managing are, it is believed by some experts, to be different in nature. Leading is establishing direction, aligning people, and motivating and inspiring. Managing is planning and budgeting, organizing and staffing, and controlling and problem solving. Some would argue that all of these are important to leading.

Finally, the visionary leader, the main focus of this monograph, was addressed. It is argued that vision is fundamental to leaders and leadership generally. Visionary leadership is looking beyond the immediacy of the situation, conceiving a destination in time that is right, that brings success, that is shared, and that is beneficial to all stakeholders. Nanus (1992) states:

There is no more powerful engine driving an organization toward excellence and long-range success than an attractive, worthwhile, and achievable vision of the future, widely shared (p. 3).


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About the Author

Richard D. Young has been a senior research associate with the Institute for Public Service and Policy Research at the University of South Carolina since 1998. He conducts research on a myriad of public policy and public administration topics relating to state and local governments. Mr. Young previously worked with the Senate of South Carolina and the State Reorganization Commission in various positions of research. Prior to this, Mr. Young taught at the University of Louisville, Hanover College, Indiana University Southeast, and the University of Kentucky Campus in Louisville, Kentucky. Mr. Young has a B.A. (1973) and M.A. (1975) from the University of Louisville. Mr. Young has written several papers and reports on public policy issues and public management theory. The Institute for Public Service and Policy Research has published Mr. Young's A Brief Guide to State Government in South Carolina (1999) and A Guide to the General Assembly of South Carolina (2000). The Institute has also published Mr. Young's book entitled Perspectives on Public Budgeting: Budgets, Reforms, Performance-based Systems, Politics and Selected State Experiences (2001). He and Dr. Luther F. Carter, President of Francis Marion College, have recently co-authored a paper, due to be published in 2002, entitled The Governor: Powers, Practices, Roles and the South Carolina Experience. Mr. Young additionally is editor of the e-journal Public Policy and Practice ( ).


1 Note: Also see “In Praise of Followers” by Robert E. Kelly, Harvard Business Review, (Nov.-Dec. 1988); Cambridge, MA.

2 Note: See Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, Trans. A. M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons (New York: Oxford Press, 1947).

3 The Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire is a standard and generally acceptable behavioral survey instrument used in behavioral research.


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