Visionary Leaders with Purposes Are Not Easy to Replace. How Many Can You Name out There?

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by: Idris Mootee

Many think that visionaries are not the kind of leaders who can take advantage of any short-term opportunities and solely focus on the big vision. That may not be the case, for those smart visionaries, they can create short terms opportunities from long term vision.

They can leverage their long-term visions to enlist people in the work of making the visions into realities and magnify the influence of visions. It is the visions that guide visionaries by providing them with the basic harmonic sequence for improving their short-term competitive strategies. Visions with purposes are particularly powerful as they induce clarity, consensus and commitment around their core purposes. They raise both individual and organizational aspirations and encourage people to devote extraordinary amounts of energy and commitment to ensure that their organizations are ultra-competitive.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak formed a vision in the 70s based on a simple but very powerful premise. Their focus on putting the most powerful tool in the hand of human empowering them to be the best they can be. Jobs was bringing a higher purpose. According to Jobs, “What if you came up with something that was easy to sue as a Macintosh and had the power of a work station? What if you unleashed the machine in higher education?” Over the years, there were times despite his influence and businesses were shrinking, but his vision was growing. The biggest challenge for many growing companies is “how do you have the visionary founders around and allow them to grow their vision while the companies are being institutionalized?” The need to have professional managers needs to balance the need to continue to grow the vision, but 80% of the time company failed to maintain that balance.

A funny note, last week Bloomberg accidentally released a lengthy file, which contains a preliminary obituary for Steve Jobs (and was quickly retracted obviously) but also a list of suggested contacts for a more extensive story– Steve Wozniak, Larry Ellison and Guy Kawasaki, among others. The summary of Jobs’ accomplishments, per the obituary, is that he "helped make personal computers as easy to use as telephones, changed the way animated films are made, persuaded consumers to tune into digital music, and refashioned the mobile phone."

It’s not uncommon at all that Bloomberg (and many others news agencies) would have this written; all major news outlets have notable persons’ obituaries prepared on file so that they can use them when it is needed. That way the news can be reported almost immediately with some minor update. But a Jobs obituary is a scary thought for Apple lovers. He successfully battled a rare pancreatic cancer 8 years ago and recovered. The big question is can Jobs be replaced? The simple answer is “no”. Then what happens to Apple?

One reason he remains a force in the industry is because he continues to try to innovate with the customer in mind. He has no fear of industries’ big guys. CEO succession planning is not that common and this important process is often given short shrift, even among the most conscientious of boards, in part because there is no widely accepted and systematic approach for doing it. Succession planning isn’t regarded as a core organizational process, as important as M&As. Instead, boards often lean way too heavily on the advice of executive search firms. Who will succeed Jobs at Apple?

Many people think Apple COO Timothy Cook is the man. Cook has deep knowledge inside Apple’s operations and he has the respect of the board of directors and the investment community. The other choice is Jonathan Ive, the popular Apple designer and crowd favorite for the role. If they need to go outside, my suggestion would be Tony Stark (head of Stark Industries), he helped usher in a new era of super-human registration and is now the Director of the most elite government organization S.H.I.E.L.D. Tony would be a perfect replacement for Jobs because, like Jobs, he never gives up

James Wolfensohn’s (President of the World Bank) "Comprehensive Development Framework"  provides an inspirational idea pulled together concepts from many disciplines and try to apply it to effective alleviation of global poverty – no small task. He was calling for a holistic approach that put social concerns on equal footing with economic issues and, most importantly, put each country in charge of its own success. While many heralded these new ideas, they initially received criticism from all corners: denounced as a turn away from the necessary, hard line economic approach.Today this framework is slowly embraced on a global scale and is often the reference for the creation of new policies addressing global poverty.  

We need visionary leaders to solve our health care problems; bring innovation to the pharma industry solving the problems with conflict of interest, high costs out of step with production expenses, and inaccessibility of drugs for the poor; bring innovation to the tobacco companies to come up with reduced-risks alternatives and in turn reduce our healthcare costs; bring innovation to the fast food industry to come up with healthier choices and in turn also reduce our healthcare cost. We need a massive change not only in the industry but also the way it is regulated. We can use plenty of Jobs and Obama to make the change we need.

Visionary leaders not only have a clear idea of what is possible, they are involved in bringing it about. Mahatma Ghandi did more than recognize the value of religious tolerance and sovereignty for the people of India, he used his life to make it possible. Ghandi drew on everything to instigate the changes he was seeking: his diet, his clothing, his community, his speech. When a reporter asked him to state his message for the world, Ghandi replied, "My life is my message."