Global Leadership: Creating An Inspiring Vision

March 2012, by So-Young Kang

Before we talk about global leadership, let’s start with the basic question of “What is leadership?” Leadership is defined in many ways but the common elements that consistently emerge are vision and followership. In order to be a leader, one must have a vision which requires understanding your purpose and the direction that you want to take people in. But this is not enough, if you do not have followers or people to come along in your journey, you may have a brilliant vision, but you are not a leader. Followership requires the leader to be able to communicate his/her vision in a way that resonates to inspire action. I have added a 3rd component which I believe impacts the size of the leadership impact one can have. For example, if a leader has great influence, then the size of the leadership impact will increase. Achieving great influence is an art and a science which we will touch on in the future.

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Let’s start with this first core element of vision. What is vision? I have realized in the course of working with many clients and CEOs from around the world that many are not clear on the difference between vision and objectives. When asked, “What is your vision?” here are some very common responses: “It’s to be the most profitable company in x industry.” Or “It’s to be #1 in my industry.”

Let’s analyze these statements. How is this different from any company in the world? As a business, being profitable and working to increase market share is a necessity to being a business. If you are not profitable, you are not in business (or won’t be for long). I love Webster’s definition of ‘vision’ in the context of leadership.

  • a thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination
  • the act or power of imagination
  • mode of seeing or conceiving
  • unusual discernment or foresight
  • the act or power of seeing
    Source: Excerpts from Merriam-Webster

Isn’t that beautiful? It requires imagination and seeing things that don’t exist today. It is inspiring. As someone who is in a position of authority (sometimes referred to as ‘leader’), what is your vision? Is it future-focused? Does it inspire? Does it align with your values? Is it unimagined? Or is it a set of goals and objective? Is it easily measurable?

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To have an inspiring vision requires clear purpose. Why do you get up and work every day? What drives you? Why does your company exist? Again, making money is a basic right-to-play the game of business. If that is the only reason why your company exists, then why your particular business? There are many ways to make money. I recently had the privilege of being on a panel hosted by Ogilvy & Mather on the “Power of Purpose.” [See video with highlights here.] We debated whether or not companies can have a purpose. I believe leaders have purpose. As leaders lead their organizations with purpose, the organization then carries that purpose.

Let me share one of my favorite examples. Google’s vision is to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Their vision contains their purpose which is to make information universally accessible and useful. Their products and services are all focused on achieving this purpose. The decisions they have made including the very controversial decision to leave China was related to their purpose of providing ‘universally’ accessible information and one of their values of “Do no evil.” They realized that censoring information was not aligned to this purpose. This was not an easy business decision. Many still criticize them but their leaders had the courage to stick to their mission. This is a powerful example of what it takes to be a great company, not just a good one that makes profits. If they were driven purely by profit, they would have made different decisions. Would they still be a great company where employees are proud to be working there? I’m not sure…I, for one, would be less inspired and know many employees who would feel the same. We all have choices to make.

Do you want to build a great organization or are you satisfied with a good one?

Great companies are led by great leaders who inspire and help people imagine the unimaginable. They have inspiring visions and a very clear purpose that guides their decisions. When leaders dream the unimaginable, their visions are broad, universal and…global.

What is your vision and purpose?