Respectful, Empowering Relationships
Good relationships are the heart of effective visionary leaders. They embody a deeply caring approach to people, seeing them as their greatest asset. Aaron Feuerstein, CEO of Malden Mills in the USA, kept all his employees on the payroll when a fire destroyed 75% of his factories. His employees were so grateful they helped him rebuild and, within a year, the company was more profitable than ever.

In contrast to the old style of leadership which tells people what to do, and pushes or dominates them, visionary leaders embody a receptive, as well as a dynamic energy. They know how to listen and learn from other points of view and have fine-tuned their communications skills.

Rita Bailey, director of Southwest Airline’s University for People, says the secret of the airline’s amazing financial success is living by the golden rule – treating employees as family, with warmth and respect. Employees then treat customers the same way. Treat employees like morons and they would treat their customers as morons.

Visionary leaders promote a partnership approach and create a shared sense of vision and meaning with others. They exhibit a greater respect for others and carefully develop team spirit and team learning.

The most effective visionary leaders are responsive to the real needs of people and they develop participative strategies to include people in designing their own futures. Rather than confront or avoid conflict, the new leaders have learned how to transform conflict into usable energy. They work to unite – rather than divide – people.

Innovative, Courageous Action
Visionary leaders are especially noted for transforming old mental maps or paradigms, and creating strategies that are “outside the box” of conventional thought. They embody a balance of right brain (rational) and left brain (intuitive) functions.

Their thinking is broad and systemic, seeing the big picture, the whole system, and “the pattern that connects.” They then create innovative strategies for actualizing their vision. CNN founder Ted Turner transformed television news by boldly creating an around-the-clock international news network.

CEO Ray Anderson took courageous action in transforming his world-wide company, Interface Carpets, into the most environmentally sustainable corporation. Interface launched a massive effort to cut its use of energy, replace petroleum-based supplies with vegetable-based substitutes, and reduce emissions by 24%. Customers now don’t buy a wall-to-wall carpet – they rent one – and when it wears out, all its component parts are recycled, and the customer receives a new one.

Visionary leaders anticipate change and are proactive, rather than reactive to events. Their focus is on opportunities, not on problems. They emphasize win/win rather than adversarial win/lose approaches. This is the strategy of environmental economist Hazel Henderson, author of Building a Win/Win World, who created The Calvert/Henderson Sustainable Indicators with the Calvert Social Investment Funds in USA.

Body Shop founder Anita Roddick addressed health and environmental problems, as well as poverty in the Third World, through the innovative strategies she designed for her hugely successful products and stores. Products are made of non-polluting ingredients and stores are opened in poor neighborhoods to provide employment and return profit to the community.

When we see a truly visionary leader accomplishing great things, s/he is drawing on the resources of their soul and its remarkable capabilities. Each of us can access our inner resources to become a more effective leader in our own field. First, we must be willing to take initiative and stand for something we believe in passionately. We must be ready to take the heat.

Many of us avoid the responsibility of leadership primarily because we are too sensitive to criticism. But when we know who we truly are and we live from an inner core of values, criticism can be filtered to take in only what is true and helpful to our growth.

Today, under the Third Millennium, thousands of new visionary leaders are emerging in all fields of human endeavour around the world, leading a quiet revolution energized by power of the soul. By appreciating and supporting those who lead from their core spiritual values, we strengthen those leadership qualities in ourselves.

Africa has come of age and we should ensure that we are not left behind as new leaders emerge all over the world. Obsession for raw power and greed should not be allowed to rob our generations of genuine visionary leaders in both private and public sectors.

– Lere Baale is a certified strategy consultant at Howes Consulting Group and a director of Business School Netherlands .