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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

What leadership means: Having a dream

I mentioned in a previous post, What leadership means, that the London Times was looking at six styles of leadership. The second report in The Times looks at "visionary leaders" (formerly called the authoritative style). We often see these leaders in fiction: novels, plays and films. What defines them is their ability to see the "big picture", and providing long-term direction and vision; being clear about what they want to do and getting people to buy into it. While directive leaders tell people what to do; visionary leaders win people over so that they want to do it. For many of us our obvious visionary leader is the person of our religious focus, whether Jesus, Mohamed, or Buddha, for example.

The Times cites the movie "Remember The Titans", when Denzil Washington plays Herman Boone, a black high school football coach, who explains why, in the American South in the early 1970s, uniting black and white players on one team is about much more than simply sport. His speech is dramatic (www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechrememberthetitans.html), given as it was at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania--famed battlefield of the American Civil War.

This leadership style is for when you need to show people the way; when you need to galvanise people and get them to see the "vision", and then, when you need to, remind them of it. It’s particularly useful when day-to-day tasks are difficult or unpopular. It is not a "Christmas only" or a once-a-year style that can be brought out for the AGM then put back in a draw. A tongue-in-cheek look at visionary leaders was Monty Python's "Life of Brian".Read the following extracts from that film:
******
  • Brian: I'm not the Messiah! Will you please listen? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!
  • Girl: Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.
  • Brian: What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Messiah!
  • Followers: He is! He is the Messiah!
  • Brian: Now, @#$% off!
[silence]
  • Arthur: How shall we @#$% off, O Lord?
******
But this style does more harm than good when it is used in a crisis; also it would not be effective if the person articulating the vision did not have credibility. It probably wont be the best technique to use if you’ve just been promoted to lead a team of which you used to be a member.

Being a visionary leader can be a problem if the style is used excessively. When overused it can lead to confusion. People usually need support and guidance because they need to know if they are doing things right.

What are the no-nos when working for a visionary leader? Well don't try to give them a vision. It doesn’t work upwards: visionary leaders see big picture development as their job; they don’t want, or expect, their juniors to do the same thing.

So how do you impress a visionary leader? Use vanity, in a sense: reflect their vision back to them, talk about how you understand it and how you will articulate that vision to your own team in ways that they will understand.

So who fits the bill? I think of visionaries but I am not sure that they led the way the portrayed their visions. Let me give them the benefit of the doubt. I feature Martin Luther King above: he surely had a dream and got many people to buy into his ideas. But I would also cite Colonel Qaddafi, whether you like his politics or not. He refers to himself as "The Guide", not President or Leader. And of course there is Mahatma Gandhi, who led India to independence on a wave built on his belief in "resistance to evil through active, non-violent resistance". Truth is there are not that many truly visionary leaders in ordinary life; some gravitate to politics, the others remain in a world of spiritual enlightenment and wonder about the rest of us miserable mortals.

2 comments:

ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID said...

I found the piece especially the discription of visionary leaders quite interesting,but I am somewhat surprised that you did not list a leader from the Caribbean.What about Marcus Garvey,would you classify or characterize him as a visionary leader although most of his impact involved the United States when he was alive ?

Dennis Jones said...

Marcus Garvey was certainly a visionary but he was not an effective leader; many people (especially blacks) did not buy into his vision at the time. Moreover, I was not seeking specifically to flag leaders from the region.