A Picture

A vision creates a picture of a future that is better than the status quo. It is an idea about the future that requires an act of faith by followers. Visions paint an ideal image of where a group or an organization should be going. It may be an image of a situation that is more exciting, more affirming, or more inspiring. As a rule, these mental images are of a time and place where people are working productively to achieve a common goal. Although it is easier for followers to comprehend a detailed vision, a leader’s vision is not always fully developed. Sometimes a leader’s vision provides only a general direction to followers or gives limited guidance to them. At other times, a leader may have only a bare-bones notion of where they are is leading others; the final picture may not emerge for a number of years. Nevertheless, when a leader is able to paint a picture of the future that is attractive and inspiring, it can have significant impact on their ability to lead others effectively. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, given during the March on Washington in 1963, is the epitome of an ideal future worth striving for: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

A Change Another characteristic of a vision is that it represents a change in the status quo, and moves an organization or a system toward something more positive in the future. A vision points the way to new ways of doing things that are better than how things were done in the past. It takes the best features of a prior system and strengthens them in the pursuit of a new goal.

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Changes can occur in many forms: rules, procedures, goals, values, or rituals, to name a few. Because visions imply change, it is not uncommon for a leader to experience resistance to the articulated vision. Some leaders are even accused of “stirring the pot” when promoting visionary changes. Usually, though, visions are compelling and inspire others to set aside old ways of doing things and to become part of the positive changes suggested by a leader’s vision.

Values A third characteristic of a vision is that it is about values, or the ideas, beliefs, and modes of action that people find worthwhile or desirable. To advocate change within a group or an organization requires an understanding of one’s own values, the values of others, and the values of the organization. Visions are about changes in those values. For example, if a leader creates a vision that emphasizes that everyone in the company is important, the dominant value being expressed is human dignity. Similarly, if a leader develops a vision that suggests that everyone in the company is equal, the dominant value being expressed is fairness and justice. Visions are grounded in values. They advocate a positive change and movement toward some new set of ideals. In so doing, they must address values.

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