Visions are our windows to tomorrow. They are about exercising imagination, asking where we are going, and setting direction. This means knowing what we want to become and what we want to achieve. Strategic plans embrace the mission, values, goals, and measures that help attain the vision.
The leader as visionary looks to the future, envisions a compelling future state, and then tells, involves, and attracts others. Leaders practice ‘visioneering’ – the art of creating strategic images – so that organizations, like people, perform consistently with their self-image. They lead three phases:
1. Fashioning the vision: review the past, identify fundamental forces, make threats opportunities, articulate critical values, make three wishes, create alternative scenarios, invent the ideal, test assumptions, write a vision statement, develop a slogan, test the water, start affirming it;
2. Sharing the vision: demonstrate conviction, appeal to a common purpose, seek input, be consistent, use symbols; and
3. Realizing the vision: involve and empower people.
Shakespeare wrote in King John, “Be great in act, as you have been in thought.” For almost three decades, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a prophet without honour in his own country. He knew instinctively that without a vision the people would perish in their cause to end Apartheid.
Scenario building has been applied to some of the most intractable challenges of our time. One of the most famous was Mont Fleur in South Africa in 1991-92. During the tumultuous transition towards freedom, 22 prominent people came together from across South African society – left and right, black and white, community activists, conservative politicians, African National Congress officials, trade unionists, academics, establishment economists, corporate executives.
Their objective was to develop a set of alternative visions about South Africa’s future to provoke debate and heal a nation. They dismissed scenarios cast as the Ostrich, Lame Duck, and Icarus in favour of imagining the Flight of the Flamingos, where everyone in society rose slowly and steadily together.
Scenarios adapt pictures of the world by shifting how people look at what is going on around them. They help reframe mental models, share commitment to change developed through dialogue, regenerate energy and optimism, and renew action and momentum.
Today, we honour the legacy of ‘Madiba’ in leading national reconciliation in South Africa. He believed that education is the foundation of democracy and a powerful tool for changing the world. The African Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarships Fund affords sub-Saharan African professionals with opportunities to study in Canada and to champion Mandela’s vision of leadership back home.