Sunday, December 31, 2006

Four Attributes of Leadership Vision

With regard to Imagining the Ideal and the concept of vision being “an ideal and unique image of the future,” there are four attributes of vision that represent dimensions for expressing the vision (Kouzes & Posner, 2002):

  • Ideality: The Pursuit of Excellence—being the very best;
  • Uniqueness: Pride in Being Different—being unique from other organizations with similar missions;
  • Future Orientation: Looking Forward—dwell on what should be, instead of what is;
  • Imagery: Pictures of the Future—paint the future of the organization in vivid, bold and imaginative colors.

Leaders bring the vision that represents the organization to life along these four dimensions.

Ideality is about pursuing a standard of excellence beyond what seems probable to what is possible. There is an important distinction between what is probable. To tailgate on an example provided Kouzes and Posner (2002), the author knows that most restaurants will fail in the first year of operation, but do restaurateurs let that known probability detract from the possibility of success? No, that is where leaders clearly differ in attitude and orientation from some managers. Perhaps it is true that managers deal in probabilities while leaders deal in possibilities. Leadership is about reaching for the possibility (or impossibility) of the ideal condition.

Uniqueness of the vision spells out how an organization is different from another. In many ways, an endeavor gains validity and the members of the endeavor gain from the vision converging on those organizations that it should converge with and diverging with those visions of organizations with which they should diverge. When this convergent and divergent validity of the vision is apparent to members, they will either want to be part of the journey or not. Either they will want to stand out in a crowd and be proud of the fact that they are doing something different or not. The author’s past company was not just another web marketing company but a company that helped other companies mine the dormant veins of gold in their websites – we did this by increasing both the quantity and quality of sales contacts generated by the website. Therefore, as it is with any company: leaders must make sure that the vision statement embodies a clear differentiation of the mission away from commoditization.

Future Orientation is an attribute of vision that is missing from many organizations. There is no doubt that many managers spend time thinking about the future. The question is whether they spend any time doing what Kouzes and Posner (2002) have identified as essential: “devoted to building a collective perspective on the future.” Visions are pictures of destination, not starting points and leaders need to spend time not only dwelling on the future possibilities but also communicating this future orientation to their organizations.

Imagery provides a visual reference point for the organization’s vision. Painting a clear mental picture of the vision can make great strides across the territory separating the constituency from the goal. Mental imagery serves as the trial run for the journey, the prototype, or the model. The imagery is not the vision just as the topographical map is not the territory. However, in order to focus on the vision, the imagery associated with the vision offers considerable utility to leaders. See the vision. Be the vision. Attain the vision.


Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B.Z. (2002). The leadership challenge (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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