Are “vision” and “foresight” the same thing? Or, more importantly, are they synonymous with “leadership”? Let me say quickly that I do not believe that they are synonymous. Consider this as a follow up to last weeks article about a quote that has been attributed to Henry Ford. In that article I called him a “foresighted innovator.” I equated foresighted innovation with being a leader. So, does that mean that Henry Ford was therefore a man of vision? Does that mean that he was a leader by many of the other accepted leadership definitions?
I find myself reflecting this week on a Bible passage that you may hear occasionally when some other types of leaders wish to address their followers. Personally, I have seen it used when church leaders want to speak to the issue of visionary leadership. Here is that often misquoted (and occasionally misused) scripture.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish”.
It is found in the Old Testament in Proverbs 29:18. It is used many times from a church pulpit to exhort us to catch the vision that a pastor has seen and to encourage us onward to the destination that has been seen in the vision.
Having vision, communicating a vision, and catching a vision are all vital skills for leaders and followers alike. But I submit to you that there is a BIG difference between being a visionary person and being a leader.
Let me explain my thoughts this way. A visionary is someone who can “see” where we need to go. However, they may not have the skills necessary actually to get us all there. To me, visionaries are a little like Indian scouts that you see in old western movies. These scouts are always added to the posse (team) because of their specialized skills. They know how to read the signs and pick up clues that no one else picks up. In fact, everyone stops while they do what they do. They scratch in the ground, they sniff the air, they peer intently at footprints left by men or beast. But they may not have a clue how to get to the final destination. And in the end, these skills may be more about “keen observation” than true insight.
What is the leadership lesson here?
I think the leadership lesson is this. Vision alone is not enough.
Providing vision is a skill that is often touted as being one of the key skills for pastors and other secular leaders to possess today. A casual review of the current literature aimed at leaders indicates that this is a highly prized, if not “coveted” skill. But the ability to see where to go without the ability to get us there is a little bit like having a GPS or an old fashioned road map – but having no car. Without a vehicle, all that the best the GPS can do is to tell us where we are. As important as that knowledge and awareness is, it does nothing to propel us toward our destination.
What about you? Are you able to see where to go? Or are you able actually to lead us to our ultimate destination? Being a visionary is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it is a very valuable skill. But, if I had to choose between the two, I think that I would choose being a leader over being a visionary.
Perhaps even now, someone out there is already starting an online blogging community and they are calling it “VisionaryVoices.com” for those folks who would make the other choice.