Visionary Leadership – What Does It Take?

By Gary Clayton

Episode 045

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a visionary leader.

What does it take to create a motivated organization, one which feels charged with a mission to achieve something great? It takes a leader, someone who can verbally paint an image that people are attracted to and are willing to devote their efforts to achieve. It takes someone like yourself, but who has learned and mastered the skills of leadership through real life practice and experience, again and again.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one such leader. He inspired an oppressed people to dream and aspire to a better life, one in which they were treated as equals by the ruling class: a life in which the ruling race lived up to its explicit promises. The US Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and ’60’s was not his alone – but in a 16 minute speech, Dr. King was able to capture the imagination and the heart of the majority of American citizens. How did he do that? Commitment to the vision was essential, but there are four critical elements that he successfully communicated to his followers.

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Lead with Your Vision

Dr. King painted a vision, “I have a dream,” of a future state that he believed in and dedicated his life to achieving. He believed in equality and justice for all people. He painted vivid word pictures of that future state in his speeches, so that others could see it, understand it and aspire to that reality.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream that one day… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

He believed America could achieve it – and he believed he knew the way to achieve it. His communication strategies were to speak about his dream and live it as fully as he could. He did not accept the constraints that the American culture of the 1950’s and 60’s tried to place upon him. He showed the way so that others would be inspired and would follow. He led by communicating his vision in speech and deed.

Identify the Mission

Like all great visionary leaders, Dr. King did more than just dream. He did more than just paint a vision of a desired future state. In his speech, he created a powerful mission: WHAT had to be achieved, WHAT had to be remedied.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

Yet Dr. King did not stop here.

Tell Your Followers What Strategies to Use

Dr. King gave Civil Rights Supporters of ALL races a STRATEGY. He identified HOW the vision could be turned into reality. And that strategy was simple.

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

His strategy was for civil rights supporters to stand up for their beliefs and act as though those beliefs were reality, starting immediately.

This was the strategy upon which many plans were based. The devil was in the details – many suffered while following that strategy, including Dr. King who was assassinated. But he moved American society much closer to realizing his dream.

Call Your Followers to Spring into Action!

The fourth important thing that Dr. King did in that speech was issue a Call to Action.

Now is the time, to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time, to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

Vision, Mission, Strategy and Call to Action are Essential

Such a powerful speech! It is truly a Gold Standard for those who aspire to being visionary leaders. Really, it is a Gold Standard for all of us who aspire to be clear communicators and leaders of others – or even just leaders in our own lives.

Vision, Mission, Strategy and Call to Action are essential to any movement, organization or person who wants to lead successfully. The visionary leader creates the climate for success by communicating in such a way that people see the vision and are moved to do what must be done, because they WANT to do it.


King, ML Jr., “I have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Retrieved at http://www.archive.org/details/MLKDream on 06/23/2010]

Gary Clayton is an executive coach who works with leaders and those who wish to become leaders in business and life. He has seen many companies succeed based on the clarity of their vision, mission, strategy and commitment, even when their products were unremarkable. He has also seen many companies fail, even when their products were technically superior. Gary’s mission is to empower leaders and their teams to extraordinary success.

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Categories : Vision



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