In simple terms, the role of a leader is to translate vision into reality. Excellence in leadership is measured against the power of the vision and the extent to which it captures the attention of and energizes followers so they will get there.
Great leaders elevate the aspirations of followers and then release their collective energy in pursuit of a desired end. Vision, well communicated, is the tool of their trade.
History in both government and business provides rich examples of the captive power of a vision well communicated. Here are five examples that stand out
1) Abraham Lincoln: “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”
In a 272-word address at Gettysburg, a leader changed the course of history. In spite of the words in the speech that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” the world did note and will never cease to remember. The 16th president became one of the most well known leaders of all time. His vision of a preserved Union, persistence, beliefs and courage kept a nation together and turned the tides of history.
2) John F. Kennedy: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
In remarks delivered on the Senate floor on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy captured the attention of the nation. Perhaps no single vision in modern history has delivered equivalent benefits to a nation, the world and an era.
3) Ronald Reagan: “It’s morning in America again.”
Known as a man of clear and compelling vision, Reagan will long be remembered for a political ad that ran in his 1984 bid for reelection. He assured followers that inflation and unemployment were problems of government, not the national character. Vietnam was over. America was once again a shining city on a hill. These themes animated a nation recovering from the malaise of the 1970s and led to a period of unprecedented prosperity.
4) Sam Walton (Founder of Walmart): “Commit to your business and swim against the stream.”
In 1950, Sam Walton bought his first retail store in Bentonville, Arkansas. He was driven by the vision to achieve higher sales volumes by keeping sales prices lower and service levels higher than his competitors by reducing his own profit margin. Through dogged determination, he built the largest retailer in the world with over 4,200 stores and 2,000,000 employees. Today, roughly $.08 of every dollar spent in the United States is spent at Walmart—more than $36 million dollars every hour of every day.
5) Fred Smith (founder of FedEx): While attending Yale, he wrote a paper for an economics class, outlining overnight delivery service in a computer information age.
Buoyed by the operational vision of a hub and spoke parcel transport system modeled after a bank clearing house and an integrated air / ground network, FedEx would change the nature of how business is done. Now, nearly a $50B company with more than 230,000 employees, a simple vision has unleashed the energy of a dedicated workforce.
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