It is an old axiom that crisis reveals character. Nothing in modern history was as horrific as the Holocaust, and those sent to the camps had to have an incredible inner strength to survive. One of those was Victor Frankl, a psychologist in Vienna who refused the opportunity to escape to America because he did not want to abandon his parents. As a Jew, he was sentenced to Auschwitz and in that death camp he learned something incredibly valuable. He wrote later in his masterpiece, Man’s Search for Meaning, “In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved (meaning his wife), achieve fulfillment.”
Frankl is a rare intellectual who not only conceived of a powerful idea but was forced to live out his convictions against seemingly insurmountable odds. Yet he endured, and his victory is a testament for his ideals – that the human soul possess the power of vision which is greater than the most gruesome of human reality.
What is also worthwhile to consider is that had Frankl chose to go to America, the power of his ideals would have had significantly less impact. It was the combination of the vision, combined with the conditions (albeit very horrible) that propelled this obscure psychologist into a world renowned scientist. His seminal work cited above has been translated into twenty-three languages and had over nine million copies sold.
How does a person acquire a leadership vision? Virtually all the books on leadership allude to the fact that a leader has vision, but there is a scarcity of literature on the source of the vision. Why do some have vision and others do not? No one has a definitive answer on this question, but there are some who have a good grasp of what some leadership writers call the ‘vision thing.’
One of the best business writers in the last decade or so is Jim Collins, and a good place to begin to recognize visionary traits is Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. One of insights from this book is that visionary companies almost all had some type of core ideology that guided the company in times of upheaval and served as a constant bench mark. This corresponds with research I cite in my own book on the relationship between vision and values.
Each of the six leadership competencies I identify in Ideal Leadership: Time for a Change (vision, values, wisdom, courage, trust and voice), has what I call a ‘champion.’ This person thinks that this particular attribute is the most important to develop a leader. Peter Drucker is unquestionable one of the most prolific of management/leaders authors of the the 20th century, and he believes that vision is the primary attribute of a leader. He points this out in a very readable book, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization.
Vision translates into strategy. For those who are novices on this very complex subject, a good place to start for an overview would be Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour Through the Wilds of Strategic Management by Henry Mintzberg.
Remember the management expert W. Edward Deming’s quote, “No company without a plan for the future will have a future.” Good advice for individuals as well.