Your Visionary Self: Becoming a Leader

July 29, 2015

visionary leader

When it comes to the important personal dimensions of leadership, and the pivotal role you play yourself in enacting what you stand for, I’m a big fan of the work of Warren Bennis, one of the most eminent thinkers in this field. His landmark book On Becoming a Leader is one I often recommend. In it, Bennis promotes an integrated perspective on leadership consisting of four essential competencies: vision, adaptive capacity, voice, and integrity. Here we’ll explore the relationship between your visionary capacity and Bennis’s concepts of voice and integrity—the identity-oriented aspects.

Followers look to your vision as a guiding light for the decisions they make, the initiatives they start, the priorities they set, and so on. These uses correspond to the Logos side of your vision. In addition, followers need to feel something in order to become ignited to follow you. That’s the Pathos dimension.

But there is a third critical element: the integrity, credibility, and authenticity of the leader. This is what Aristotle meant by Ethos in his memorable triad: “Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.”

This is where your personal character enters the equation. Bennis has asserted that “timeless leadership is always about character, and it is always about authenticity.” And Harvard professor John Kotter has added that acceptance goes deeper than message alone: “Whether delivered with many words or a few carefully chosen symbols, such messages are not necessarily accepted just because they are understood. Another big challenge in leadership efforts is credibility—getting people to believe the message.” So in order for your vision to evoke energy and provide many invaluable benefits, it must be aligned with your authenticity, credibility, and behavioral integrity.


Your followers will be watching to see if you really mean what you say. Are you really willing to pursue that—possibly unconventional—path? They’ll want to see if you are prepared to make the required sacrifices, change your behavior, live by your vision, and stand by your vision when you’re under pressure. It’s the classic walk-the-talk, practice-what-you-preach thing.

This means that the importance of you in your vision cannot be underestimated. You play a critical role in making your vision powerful through the way you show up, the way you behave, and the way you accept the consequences of your words.

I’m still astounded to see companies whose leaders preach “putting the customer first in everything we do,” yet keep the five best spots in their parking lot reserved for senior leadership. Companies with deep-rooted beliefs don’t need posters on the wall to remind them of their values. IKEA’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, lives and breathes these values in everything he does (or used to do; he stopped his active involvement in the company in 2013, at the age of 89). Cost-consciousness is at the core of the IKEA model. Without this, it would be impossible to deliver on IKEA’s enduring intent to make well-designed furniture easily accessible. One of the richest men in the world, Kamprad is known to fly economy class and to take the bus instead of a taxi from the airport to the hotel. His actions, in other words, are in alignment with the values he preaches. Which means IKEA has no need for coffee mugs or artistically designed gadgets to spread its core messages and beliefs.

The values you live by and emanate are part of your story already. They must also become part of your identity as a leader.

Get more leadership insights with Rob-Jan de Jong’s new book, Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead.

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You can be a visionary leader with the right tools and training. Learn all the leadership skills you need with these AMA resources and seminars:

About The Author

Rob-Jan de Jong is one of five faculty members in Wharton’s flagship executive program “Global Strategic Leadership.” A sought-after international consultant, he helps leaders and companies anticipate the future and arrive at winning strategies. He is the author of the book: Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead (AMACOM, 2015). His clients include Philips, ING, HCL, Dannon, and other top organizations.

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