Visionary Leadership


Visionary leadership is vital to organizations that wish to exist in competitive environments.  Yet, it is not enough to have only one visionary leader in an organization’s existence.  Through their visions, leaders can articulate their values and principles.  

Aubrey Malphurs, author of Values-Driven Leadership, notes, “An organization’s core values signal its bottom line…every organization must have a commitment to values that matter.  The organization must passionately stand for something.”  There are numerous examples where a visionary founder departed the scene.  Consequently, the organization began to falter and in some cases fail. 

For example, George Eastman founded Eastman Kodak Company in 1888, which later came to be known simply as ‘Kodak.’  Eastman was a high school dropout with an average intelligence according to academic standards of that time.  Even though he grew up and had to support his widowed mother and two sisters, Eastman had a knack for business.  

At the age of 14, Eastman worked as an office boy in an insurance company and later got into other business ventures.  Eastman’s high energy, his gift for organization and management, and his entrepreneurial mind were all personality traits that helped transform his Eastman Kodak Company into an American industry leader.  When Eastman died on March 14, 1932 at the age of 77, the company lost more than just its founder.


Due to the founder’s vision, Kodak become a dominant player in photographic film.  In fact, the company controlled 89% of the photographic film market in America during 1976.  Despite past success, the company lost its way.  By the late 1990s, Kodak struggled financially due to the emergence of digital photography.  This reality was strange since Kodak invented the core technology utilized in digital cameras.  In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy and sold many of its prized patents.

 Many organizations have lost the sense of a dynamic leader with a compelling vision.  Visions often are denoted as powerful images in one’s mind that compels him or her to action often at a subconscious level.  To many, dreams and visions are the same thing because they often happen while someone is asleep. 

Some people think about their dreams; others may talk about a particular vision.  Yet, a visionary leader can share his or her vision and compel followers to make the vision become a reality.  Visionary leadership can be defined as “the ability to create and articulate a realistic, credible, and attractive vision of the future that improves upon the present situation.”

Gregory Dess, G.T. Lumpkin, and Alan Eisner, authors of Strategic Management: Creating Competitive Advantages, explain that leaders must develop and implement their visions.  A visionary leader can do these things and more.

In a survey of executives from more than 20 different countries, 98% of these global leaders noted that a strong vision was the most critical trait of a good leader.  Additionally, those surveyed stated that the ability to formulate a strategy to implement one’s vision was the most vital knowledge skill.  

Consequently, it is not enough to have a vision; a leader must have the organizational skills and communication abilities to implement a vision.  Today’s businesses need to create leadership development programs that stimulate the growth of visionary leadership from within.

Discuss your professional experience with visionary leadership in your industry.

© 2014 by Daryl D. Green

20 thoughts on “Visionary Leadership

  1. I work for a global consulting company who is involved with just about anything imaginable; from government contracts, to process improvement, to outsourcing functions, technology solutions, etc. The scope of our entire operation is truly astounding to me.

    To be as successful as we have been and to continue to grow is not the result of any one person’s leadership and vision, but more of a collective. In order to find new processes and businesses that we can impact, it involves using the knowledge and skills of everyone in the company. Ideas are solicited, valued, and rewarded. Our leadership, which is a very large, diverse group, must be able to determine what works best, and to be able to those sell solutions to our existing and potential clients.

    This company seeks out the best and the brightest, and from what we have accomplished over the company’s history, it shows. Without the vision and leadership of management and individual employees, we would not be able to stay innovative and grow.

    It’s really no surprise that an organization with visionary leadership tends to be successful, especially when everyone can be involved. According to an article by Jui-Kuei Chen and I-Shuo Chen, visionary leadership inspires employees to improve themselves, drives their confidence, and pushes them towards achievement goals (2013).

    Chen, J., & Chen, I. (2013). Don’t worry, I’m with you: can visionary leadership release neurotic employees for more perceived innovative interactions?. Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, 15(2), 215-223. doi:10.5172/impp.2013.15.2.215

    • Greg,

      Outstanding point! Many people don’t think about follower enegagement with a strong leader. Visionary leaders are no exception. However, engaging followers is a critical attribute of an effective leader.

      Professor Green

  2. Visionary leaders have passion, endurance, and the ability to lead people. Our founder, Dr. Joseph J. Jacobs was truly a visionary leader. In 1947, Dr. Jacobs opened up a one-man consulting engineering business in Pasadena, California. His vision, leadership, and commitment to our business helped make Jacobs one of the world’s largest providers of technical, professional, and construction services. Ultimately, his one man venture resulted in over 60,000 employees worldwide.

    Forbes contributor, Dave Lavinsky states, “a visionary leader recognizes talent and recruits individuals with skills that complement each other and contribute to business growth” (2013). Dr. Jacobs turned his vision into a reality, surrounding himself with talented individuals who ultimately shared a common dream that continues today.

    I believe that visionary leaders are unique and truly driven to succeed regardless of risk. Dave Lavinsky’s article mentioned historic business leaders such as Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, and many more. When I look over these names I wonder if leadership programs can develop leaders, even close, to this caliber. They are special and born with a gift — to dream bigger.

    Lavinsky, D. (2013). Are you a visionary business leader? Retrieved from

    • Denise, I like what you stated about visionary leaders being driven to succeed regardless of risk, and I fully agree! If people like Steve Job would not have taken some of the risks he did, Apple, undoubtedly wouldn’t be what it is today. I think some of the best visionary leaders are “blinded” in a way so that they only see their vision (goals) and direct all of their focus on that vision until they reach it.

    • I believe that visionary leaders have a different way of succeeding than other succeeders. When someone who visions something going a certain way it just drives them and nothing gets in their way. It is almost like they know the way situations are suppose to happen. The list of names you provided was great, Denise. These are some of the most successful visionary people. Someone of these people did not have the greatest upbringing but they saw a vision and nothing stopped them from achieving that goal.

    • Shane, I couldn’t agree with you more. Visionary leaders as Denise stated, have a “passion” for what they do. It takes a special kind of person to be a leader like this. They tend to see a broader picture and want everyone to succeed.

    • Denise,

      In your post you stated that “I believe that visionary leaders are unique and truly driven to succeed regardless of risk.” I agree with this assessment about visionary leaders and believe this is one of the primary attributes that allows them to be able to lead other individuals with special talents to assists in their goals of success. Visionary leaders typically have a unique quality and energy that is blatantly recognizable and attractive to others and makes others believe in the goal the leader is trying to obtain. The ability to make others believe in a goal and contribute their efforts to attaining desired goals is the most significant attribute visionary leaders have that makes them successful in most cases.

  3. As a result of my love for food, cooking and consuming it. I decided to look at visionary leaders in the food industry. Kahan (2013) in his article led an interview with Shelley Rosen an executive at the McDonald’s Corporation. She led the global strategy on the balanced lifestyle issue brining over $500 million in new business and repositioning the McDonald’s brand. This led to the introduction of new menu items globally, alliances with advocates in government, leading scientists and expert doctors around the world.
    Shelley said that McDonald’s realized that they were socially responsible for contributing to obesity related diseases because of the salty snacks, soda drinks and fast food that they sold. They responded to this by offering new menu choices, promoting physical activities among families and informed and educated people to democratize smart eating. McDonald’s knew that they couldn’t take on all the responsibility, but they also knew that they were in a position to make a real contribution on spreading the facts.

    Kahan,S. (2013) Seth Kahan-Visionary Leadership. Maryland. Retrieved on February 5, 2014 from

    • You stated: She (Shelley Rosen) led the global strategy on the balanced lifestyle issue bringing over $500 million in new business and repositioning the McDonald’s brand.

      Thanks for the post. McDonald’s has taken their social responsibility issues and turned these problems into a profitable business opportunity. In the guide, Leadership Styles, they note a visionary leadership style is the most appropriate when an organization needs a new direction (n.d.). McDonald’s was introducing a new vision (and values) to the way they do business. Shelley had the ability to turn McDonald’s vision into a reality. I applaud her ability to communicate and lead a team to achieve their desired results.

      The Wall Street Journal. (n.d.) Leadership styles. Retrieved from

  4. A visionary leader is essential for any company that has hopes of navigating the ebbs and flows of market changes. A thoughtful vision guides a company’s most important strategic decisions. A good example in the consumer electronics industry is Apple. Steve Jobs was a legendary visionary leader. He was able to guide expansion into a number of different consumer electronics markets with innovative design.

    This same sort of leadership is what propelled Pilot Travel Centers into the forefront of the over-the-road diesel distribution business. A focus on delivering value to the professional driver guided careful expansion decisions. By focusing on catering to the needs of this very specific customer Pilot grew rapidly, becoming the 6th largest private company in the United States.

  5. When you look at every major business or corporation they were all spearheaded by a visionary. A guy or girl with an idea. The simple fact is that in today’s competitive environment you will not succeed unless you have someone leading with a vision and a plan about the future of the company. Modern day visionaries such as Steve Jobs were iconic because they infused their visions with their personal passions. He had a plan and executed it taking not only his own company, but the entire technology culture to new heights.

    This, in my opinion, is why the visionaries are so important. They evoke the competition, passion, and creative process that fuels modern capitalism. Without a vision for the future and a plan to execute it society fails to evolve.

    I recently met with the man who was the former president of the bank I work at. He has since retired, but came in to move around some money. I began speaking with him and realized he was extremely quirky and didn’t seem overly intelligent. I was actually shocked when he was asking me questions. It was at that moment he began talking about how many branches there were when he took over, and then how many there were when he retired. It dawned on me that he was put at the top position because he had a vision and a plan to see it through. This bank is now the number one non-national bank in the state simply because he had a plan to get it there. Leaders with a vision will always be the most important cogs in the ongoing success of a business.

  6. One of the most vital steps in achieving large scale goals is an understanding that those goals cannot be achieved through the efforts of one single individual. This is the reason why visionary leaders tend to have a characteristic energy about them that enables them to motivate others to contribute their best efforts to completing the tasks required to achieve large scale goals that are envisioned. Visionary leaders are those that can keep the team focused on the primary goals while the team members focus their best efforts on achieving each of their individual tasks. “A visionary leader is effective in the manifestation of his/her vision, creates achievable goals and initiates actions which include the participation of the entire team.”(, 2013)

    • LaQuonda,

      I agree. Teamwork really is everything and to be successful in this world you have to have help (most of the time). Someone who sees another person with the vision to be a leader motivates that person to become one no matter the circumstance. Visionary leaders usually talk to the employee in a way where it is a one on one connection that really strives that person to became a leader.

  7. Although I have worked for small companies without CEOs and many years of being in business, I have worked with some true visionary leaders. I could tell many “rags to riches” stories, all stemming from an individual with a vision and drive to pursue that vision with everything in them. A vision, to me, is a destination where an individual wants to be. Without a vision, a company has no direction. If you don’t know where you want to be, or what you want your company to become, how would one know how to manage their company? However, if a company has a vision, employees and managers have a common goal that everyone can strive and work toward. Visionary leaders challenge their followers to do their best to achieve the goals of the company/organization.

  8. Visionary leadership is imperative in today’s business world. Visionary leaders are builders or a new era. They effectively use their imagination, insight and boldness to bring about a new way of thinking within an organization. An effective visionary leader strives to attain a high purpose for both themselves and the organization they work for; they focus on what’s on the horizon and not necessarily just whats at hand. “Vision in business requires that you clearly see where you choose to be in future and formulate the necessary steps to get your organization there. Creating and sustaining a vision for an organization calls for discipline and creativity.”

    Lavinsky, D. (2013). Are you a visionary business leader? Retrieved from

  9. Visionary leadership is very important. I have began to see a brighter future for myself just thinking about how to lead others since I became a supervisor. There have been people before me that have just done what they could get by with and leave it at that. I want to lead people in becoming the best that they can be. I think that is very important especially for people who work somewhere where they don’t see themselves getting promoted or if they just think they are stuck in that one place for the rest of their life. Life is full of opportunities and every time I get a chance I want to lead people to think outside of the box and see a better vision for themselves. It does take stepping outside of your comfort zone and talking to people about choices but once you do so they start listening. Once they start listening, then you start leading. Ethical leaders extend trust to their workers, creating the conditions necessary to empower employees, suppliers, and even customers to take the risks necessary to create game-changing innovations (2010). It takes trust from the ethical leaders to connect with the employees to take that initial step.

    Seidman, D. (2010, December 17). Ethical leadership: An operating manual. Retrieved from

  10. In my organization vision is not kept a secret with a knowledge warden. Many times new ideas are solicited from varying groups. Ideas that are found to be promising are then acted upon. The idea holder is invited to write a white paper to introduce his or her idea to a panel who will then decide whether or not to implement.

    The process, in its emphasis on active leadership and unidirectional flow, may be likened to a hypodermic needle, with the active ingredient (vision) loaded into a syringe (words) which is injected into the patient (subordinate) to effect change. Stripped to its essence, this model takes on a mechanical quality which surely robs the process of much of its evocative appeal. (Westley & Mintzberg, 1989, p. 1018)

    Westley, F., & Mintzberg, H. (1989). Visionary leadership and strategic management. Strategic Management Journal, 1017-32.

  11. Without effective leadership, employees can lose direction, resulting in a poor outcome. A visionary leader is one who sees well into the future, while still managing the work of the day. According to Fechter and Horowitz (1991), “visionary leadership must be exhibited by all managers in an organization”. While I was hesitant to cite this dated article, it is still relevant today.
    In my company, our leader has demonstrated just this philosophy and has set forth the expectation that all leaders look beyond the day/month/year. A planning session was held in which we were all expected to prepare our thoughts for the upcoming years as it related to our departments. We were encouraged to discuss ideas with employees and have some thoughts as to where we saw our departments moving in the future. “Visionary leaders must be futuristic in their organizational strategies. They must understand that their role is to drive and manage change.” (Fechter & Horowitz, 1991). It is in planning sessions such as this that the tone can be set for this type of visionary leadership.

    Fechter, W. F., & Horowitz, R. B. (1991). Visionary Leadership Needed by All Managers. Industrial Management, 33(4), 2.

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