Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

January 1999
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Leaders Inspire a Shared Vision – Part 1

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

In their book, “The Leadership Challenge,” James Kouzes and Barry Posner describe five fundamental practices of exemplary leaders. They:

  1. Challenge the process.
  2. Inspire a shared vision.
  3. Enable others to act.
  4. Model the way.
  5. Encourage the heart.

2. Leaders inspire a shared vision.

Leaders can see what others have not yet seen. Leaders see beyond the normal, the ordinary, the expected. They gaze across time and imagine the greater things that can lie ahead.

Vision is about possibility, and not probability. Probabilities will likely happen if the present merely continues into the future, whereas possibilities need not be. But to a visionary leader, who imagines beyond the limitations and constraints that intimidate the hearts and minds of most, anything is possible!

All new ventures begin with possibility thinking; and the clarity and force of this vision will sustain the leader through the rejection, failure and disappointment that inevitably accompany any truly new initiative.

A leader’s God-breathed vision acts as an organization’s magnetic north. It attracts human energy. It invites and draws others to participate sacrificially in the divine mission. The leader’s vision is what focuses the energy of the organization. Leaders see the possibilities of the future and then they share this vision with those they lead.

Visions are conceptualizations, but they become real as leaders express them in concrete terms. Just as architects make drawings and engineers build models, leaders find ways of expressing their hopes for the future. Then the vision becomes like a lens that focuses unrefracted rays of light. The clearer the vision, the more compelling it is to all who follow.

No matter how much involvement other people will have in shaping the vision, the leader must be able to articulate it clearly. He must keep the vision focused. To help them in internally clarifying, and then externally expressing their vision, leaders should:

a. Determine the will of God. God has very specific purposes for our lives. What are they? Unless our vision is based in the will and purpose of God, it will come to nothing.

Without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

All our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)

His vision must become our vision.

b. Think about their past. Reflecting on our past enhances our ability to be forward thinking. As we contemplate the events of our lives – both the mountains and the valleys – we can identify our strengths and weaknesses, and the patterns and themes that have carried us to the present, and which form the foundation on which our future will be built.

c. Test their assumptions. Our assumptions often blind us to new solutions and opportunities. We should ask God to help us “think outside of the box.”

d. Act on their intuition. Visions can begin somewhat vague and ill-defined. They can take time to shape themselves to the point of lucid articulation. So, instead of struggling with words on paper, we should do something to act on our intuition. Visions, like objects in the distance, become clearer as we move toward them.

e. Write a short vision statement. A compelling vision must be shared in a few words. Vision statements should capture the essential purpose and nature of the new initiative.

f. Live in the future. The Holy Spirit is Lord of the future as well as of the past and present. We should ask Him what the future holds for our organizations. Whose view of the future is dominating our lives, our organizations and our strategies? Is it God’s?

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