Many managers and employees tend to believe that leadership is impossible without vision. It is through vision that leaders get extraordinary things accomplished by themselves and their subordinates (Schermerhorn et al. 2011). Not surprisingly, visionary leadership is receiving more attention from scholars and practicing managers. Visionary leaders are claimed to be capable of challenging the existing status quo, inspiring their followers to work towards a common objective, and rewarding their achievements. One of the basic questions, however, is whether at all visionary leadership can be regarded as the cornerstone to managerial success. On the one hand, vision provides the inspiration and enthusiasm so needed by managers and their subordinates to initiate and implement change. On the other hand, vision alone can never suffice to bring organizations and their leaders to the desired goal. In present-day business environments, it is leaders’ ability to adjust themselves and their style to the changing circumstances of organizational performance that predetermines their success; therefore, even the best visionary leaders must exercise flexibility and openness and constantly review his (her) vision to make sure it reflects the realities of organizational performance at any given moment.
Visionary Leadership: Discussing Five Main Aspects
Visionary leadership is a popular topic of research and analysis. According to Schermerhorn et al. (2011), great leaders have a strong vision to accomplish extraordinary things and get others work together towards the idea, image, or enthusiastic innovative future. True for most leaders, the most successful change starts with vision – the image of the future created by leaders in their striving to improve the current state of things. As a result, visionary leadership is associated with activities that are intended to make this image of the future clearer and more compelling to the followers. At the same time, visionary leaders are expected to set the direction and pace needed to achieve these goals. Visionary leadership is hardly possible without challenging the existing status quo, which can be also described by a simple term “unfreezing”. Visionary leaders are those, who seek to innovate and want to inspire others to share this spirit of challenge and innovativeness.
Challenging and innovating. Challenging the status quo and being innovative are the primary keys to the success of visionary leaders. Tellis (2006) writes that most organizations survive long-term not because they are highly innovative but because their leaders have the capacity to initiate change. It is possible to say that some visionary leaders are so future-oriented that they are willing to cannibalize their present-day assets to realize their future potentials (Tellis 2006). Visionary leadership begins, when leaders are ready to exercise their resources and readiness for change to shift the balance and start doing something useful. This capacity and motivation to challenge and innovate can be readily compared to the concept of “unfreezing” that was used by Kurt Lewin in his theory of change. Here, leaders diagnose the problem and raise awareness of the problem and the need for change. It is also at this stage that visionary leaders formulate the goal and image the ideal future they would like to create, when the proposed change plan is implemented (Buonocore 2005). Visionary leaders do not expect others to set the pace for the proposed change; rather, they set the pace and direction for their followers’ actions.
However, it is not enough to create a vision. A vision is an ideal picture of the future, which is yet to be achieved. Numerous factors can facilitate or impede change implementation, and it is at this stage that visionary leaders must identify them (Buonocore 2005). For instance, the presence or absence of strong competitors can facilitate leaders’ and followers’ willingness to use their current assets to challenge the existing organizational order and promote radical innovation (Tellis 2006). Both internal and external variables play a huge role in how visionary leadership works. Visionary leaders should not simply create vision and set goals; they should also be able to inspire and motivate their followers.
Inspiring and motivating others to work. According to Schermerhorn et al. (2011), visionary leaders show enthusiasm and can inspire others to follow their values, principles, and goals. The concept of leadership in general and visionary leadership, in particular, necessarily includes a spiritual, emotional, and physical component (Winston & Patterson 2006). These elements are used to leverage followers’ energy to pursue the goals set by the visionary leader. These elements make up the ideal unity of mind, body, and soul (Winston & Patterson 2006).
Visionary leaders use spirituality to influence their followers and, as a result, increase their motivation to follow the predetermined goal (Winston & Patterson 2006). Visionary leaders inspire followers and make them enthusiastic by expending their emotional energy; simply stated, visionary leaders encourage by heart (Winston & Patterson 2006). They are passionate about their vision and goals. They are able to make their followers more hopeful and optimistic about their future. Visionary leaders create a sense of expectancy that, if followers use their physical and emotional potentials to the fullest, they will receive a reward, which is of real value to them (Winston & Patterson 2006). They marshal followers’ physical efforts in their striving to achieve the goal. Certainly, the way visionary leaders inspire and motivate their followers will vary across organizations. Despite the high prevalence of visionary leaders in most successful organizations, culture remains an essential factor that moderates the relationship between leadership and effectiveness (Denning 2011). Visionary leaders need some kind of intuition to decide what suits their followers and what gains they expect to have from their participation in the project. They also need a team spirit and willingness to get and retain the best talents.
Visionary leaders: helpers and team players. Teamwork and collaboration are essential ingredients of visionary leadership. Schermerhorn et al. (2011) suggest that visionary leaders help others to act. They work in teams and support the acts, decisions, talents, and potentials of others (Schermerhorn et al. 2011). They provide their followers with individualized consideration and emotional support when the latter feel frustrated (Boerner, Eisenbeiss & Griesser 2007). Visionary leaders can provide individual or group support, and they can mentor and coach followers to facilitate their individual and organizational growth (Rafferty & Griffin 2006).
Visionary leadership is all about having followers who possess diverse skills, abilities, and gifts (Winston & Patterson 2006). However, every follower possesses certain abilities, skills, and gifts, and it is the leader’s function to understand and utilize them for the benefit of the follower and the entire organization. In this sense, visionary leaders also acquire the role of a talent manager. It would be correct to say that, like leaders create their vision and encourage followers to pursue it, they also have to create a talent brand that will translate into a competitive advantage. “The talent brand is a description that simply and efficiently describes the kinds of people who work for an organization, the kinds of talent the organization seeks, and the kinds of talent who succeed” (Silzer & Dowell 2009, p.137). A talent brand is what it means to be a member of the visionary leader’s team (Silzer & Dowell 2009). A visionary leader is expected to see the principal features of the talent brand or talent team to be created for a specific goal or purpose.
The talent brand created by the visionary leader can be considered as a logical extension of the visionary leadership brand. Like the talent brand is the representation and personification of what it means to be a member of a particular organization, the leadership brand is also the personification of what it means to be a visionary leader (Silzer & Dowell 2009). In some organizations, such as Home Depot, the talent brand is associated with knowledge, helpfulness and work ethic, while in others, like Google, talents incorporate the features of enthusiasm, youth, and free thinking (Silzer & Dowell 2009). In any case, visionary leaders take a big part in everything that relates to choosing the most prospective followers and helping them become members of the leader’s team.
Visionary leaders: setting an example and being a role model. Followers often need their leaders to set an example they can follow. This is the case of visionary leadership, when role modeling becomes an essential aspect of work. According to Ryan (2012), visionary leaders must be able to persuade their followers to follow the path they have envisioned for the organization. Visionary leaders have a shared picture of future success, and they must ensure that their followers share their vision, principles, and commitment to the goal. Moreover, they need to be sure that their followers understand the meaning of their decisions and know exactly what to do in a problematic situation. At times, even the most effective communication may not be enough to help followers realize the scope and boundaries of their obligations. Visionary leaders set an example and serve the role model of how they want their followers to act (Ryan 2012). They model their own actions to become a symbol for their followers (Kirkpatrick 2005). They use role modeling to create and maintain a positive image of themselves, so that their followers are more optimistic to join them in their collaborative commitments.
Rewards and encouragement: A vital part of visionary leadership. Finally, as Schermerhorn et al. (2011) put it, visionary leaders celebrate their and followers’ achievements and bring emotions into the workplace. As mentioned earlier, visionary leaders empower and motivate their followers ‘by heart’ (Winston & Patterson 2006). As a result, in visionary leadership, rewards and appraisals are more internal than external. Visionary leaders are less concerned with monetary rewards and promotions but emphasize the value of internal commitments to the major organizational goals and self-realization through productive work. At times, visionary leaders may not have the full picture of the future rewards, mainly because their primary mission is to create a vision and set a goal, without specifying how exactly their followers will get to it (Goleman 2007). At the same time, it is always imperative that the visionary leader praises followers’ achievements and provides regular feedback to see how they are moving.
Visionary Leaders – Transformational Leaders?
Based on everything said above, transformational leadership seems to best reflect the five principles of visionary leaders specified by Schermerhorn et al. (2011). It is transformational leadership that is most frequently associated with charisma and vision (Bass 1990; Piccolo & Colquitt 2006). Transformational leaders can also be called visionary leaders in the sense that they provide vision and mission, raise followers’ expectations and give the sense of hope, stimulate their followers emotionally and intellectually, and deliver individualized consideration through personal development and coaching (Piccolo & Colquitt 2006). Transformational leaders are visionary leaders, since they raise followers’ awareness of the purpose and mission and stir them to look beyond personal interest and work for the benefit of the entire organization (Bass 1990). Transformational leaders must be charismatic, as it is the only way they can inspire, motivate, and intellectually stimulate their followers (Bass 1993). Attaining charisma is central to the concept of transformational leadership, because only charismatic leaders can have enough power to influence their followers. Only charisma can excite followers to the extent when they are willing to cannibalize their resources and make extra effort to accomplish the goal set by the leader (Bass 1990).
Transformational leadership reflects the five principles of visionary leadership, because it grows from within the leader’s internal beliefs and motivations. Unlike other leadership approaches, including transactional leadership, visionary and transformational leaders go beyond the simple exchange of commodities between themselves and their followers (Barbuto 2005). They rely on intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic rewards. Transformational leaders set a positive example of how internal value systems can change followers’ beliefs in a direction that benefits them and their organization (Barbuto 2005). Transformational leaders are visionary leaders, because they use the power of their personal abilities and principles to cause a profound effect on followers (Piccolo & Colquitt 2006). Beyond vision, visionary and transformational leaders display self-confidence and a strong commitment to moral integrity and ethics. The only question is whether being visionary is enough for sustained managerial success.
Effective Leadership: Going Beyond Vision
The growing body of research confirms the positive impacts of transformational leadership on organizational performance. Because transformational leadership is inherently concerned with progress and development, is has a huge potential to translate the vision into actions that are beneficial to both the follower and the organization (Stone, Russell & Patterson 2005). It is sometimes categorized as new-genre leadership, which goes beyond simplified economics and cost considerations (Avolio, Walumbwa & Weber 2009). Vision and transformation are important, because they promote collective motivation and foster organizational change by aligning followers’ values with those of the organization (Lee, Lee & Kim 2007). As a result, transformational leadership results in better change awareness and stronger commitment to the predetermined goal (Leong 2010). Visionary (transformational) leadership improves cohesiveness ad self-efficacy within and across employee groups (Lee, Lee & Kim 2007).
However, vision alone cannot guarantee sustained managerial success. First of all, visionary leadership presented as a unidirectional process of communicating the vision and empowering followers to act resembles a syringe with a hypodermic needle used to inject the patient (Westley & Mintzberg 1989). In this sense, the vision should also be supplemented by sufficient feedback opportunities; that is, the patient should have the voice in all decisions made in terms of the current and future injections. Second, and the most important, is the fact that vision by itself and transformational leadership as a static category will hardly bring the desired change result. Numerous situational variables moderate the relationship between visionary leaders and followers (Spreitzer, Perttula & Xin 2005). In the constantly changing circumstances of organizational performance, not the model of leadership but the ability to adapt to these changeable organizational and environmental conditions will predetermine future managerial success. This is why North American managers coming to Australia face considerable difficulties trying to adjust their leadership approaches to the unique organizational climate. North American leaders are more rational and much tougher in their striving to achieve the desired goal, unlike Australian leaders who are affectionate, emotional, open, and spirit-driven. Apparently, even the most essential features of visionary leadership may change under the influence of cultural values, traditions, and norms (Spreitzer, Perttula & Xin 2005). Talented leaders must recognize the essential role of circumstances and situational factors in their relationships with the organization and the followers. Most likely, leaders will have a different vision of transformational and visionary leadership, depending on the situation.
Visionary leadership is drawing considerable professional attention. Vision is often claimed to be central to managerial and organizational success. The positive impacts of visionary leadership (more specifically, transformational leadership) on organizations and followers have been abundantly documented. However, vision alone can hardly suffice to bring leaders to the desired goal. Vision is a static category, which loses its relevance in the constantly changing conditions of organizational performance. Leadership style by itself is of little value, if it does not match the principles and patterns organizational decision making and culture. It is leaders’ ability to be flexible and adjust their vision to meet situational demands that will guarantee sustained managerial success.