The Visionary Leader
“If you are working on something exciting, that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed, the vision pulls you.” - Steve Jobs
A leader is someone who moves people to take action. A leader helps others get from point A to point B in their journey of life. A leader looks forward into the future, sees good outcomes and then helps those they lead move toward positive outcomes.
In other words, a leader has vision. A leader doesn’t merely organize people, resources and efforts, although that’s certainly necessary. A leader is able to peer into the future, see how certain actions will produce specific outcomes, and then motivates others to take those actions.
A powerful vision has four specific elements:
- It captures the heart and imagination. First and foremost, a leader’s vision is able to capture the hearts and imaginations of their followers. Those who hear a positive vision for the future very much want to be a part of it.
- It must be vivid. Leaders must be able to paint a vivid picture of where they want to go. They should be able to communicate the benefits of their vision in clear, concrete and powerful ways.
- It must be achievable. While it’s essential that the vision stretch others, it also must be achievable. If it’s clearly not achievable, then they won’t want to be part of it.
- It must cast vision for the future. Leaders look into the future and see what’s possible. They can see a future that’s better than the present and they can move others toward that future.
It’s important to note that you won’t be able to get people on board with your vision if you don’t possess the qualities already mentioned. If you’re not confident in your vision, others won’t believe it’s possible. If you’re not passionate about your vision, they won’t be excited to be part of it.
If you’re not emotionally intelligent, you won’t be able to effectively tap into people’s emotions.
Whenever possible, communicate your vision to those around you. Theodore Hesburgh, the President of the University of Notre Dame, said:
"The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It's got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion."
If you want to get people on board with your vision, it’s important to communicate clearly and forcefully as much as possible. Paint a picture of the good life that others will experience if your vision becomes reality.
James Kouzes and Barry Posner of the award-winning and best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge, put it this way:
“There's nothing more demoralizing than a leader who can't clearly articulate why we're doing what we're doing."
Clearly, you don’t want those following you to be demoralized. How do you prevent this? By clearly articulating the why behind the actions you’re asking people to take.
How do you apply visionary leadership?
Here are the steps you can take to become a visionary leader:
- Define your vision. You should have a clear idea of your vision and how it relates to the future of the company.
- Create a sense of purpose. Communicate your vision and process to your team.
- Motivate your team.
- Adjust your goals as needed.
Visionary leaders mobilize teams or followers to work toward their vision and they need structure and organization to guide them. Having a vision for the company means they have mapped out a path in their mind and they need to communicate this path to their employees in order to set plans in motion.
Visionary leaders energize and inspire people to work toward this future goal. They are able to clearly and vividly communicate what the future holds. Visionary leaders anticipate what's coming, both opportunities and obstacles.
Advice for the DNA AD Pool
X-Factor - “X-Factor to me means someone who is a difference maker. In our world of athletics, that is someone who changes the outcome of a game. In our school our difference makers are our biggest positive servant leaders . Those leaders establish our school culture and set the tone of our building. As an educator & coach we have the ability to be an X-Factor for our kids, school & community every day in our job.” Jeff Bissen, Glenwood Athletics Director
Goal Oriented - “Goal-oriented means that you have long-term plans to support all community stakeholders, including coaches, students, parents & fans. As an AD, this planning must be flexible as the goal or the path to the destination can shift almost daily. Being goal-oriented as an AD looks different than anywhere else in the working world.” Dustin Smith, Nevada Athletics Director
Innovative - “Athletic Directors who are innovative find different ways to get the same result. They find creative ways to increase revenues for their programs with ‘out of the box’ thinking. They always have a plan B, C and D just in case plan A doesn't work out.” Brent Buttjer, Dallas Center-Grimes Athletics Director
Focused - “It starts with the WHY. All roads lead back to why I am doing what I am doing and how that elevates the mission and vision of the program that I serve. It guides all interactions and decisions that I make.” David Horner, ICS School Zurich Athletics Director
“Champions aren’t made in the gym. Champions are made from something they have deep inside of them, a desire, a dream, a vision.” - Muhammad Ali
Intentional - “AD’s must live a life that is on purpose with their coaches and athletes. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, what we do with them is up to us. Checklists or to-do lists may run our lives so it takes one to be intentional about their investment in others. They aren’t making any more time, so we need to be intentional with the time we do have to make a difference in the lives of others.” Dr. Dustin Smith, EdD C.M.A.A., Director of Athletic Operations and Student Activities, Greenwood Public Schools
Result Oriented - “At the end of the day, that is what Athletics is about: Results. An AD’s results may not be wins and losses on the court or field, but can still be measured. Are your programs growing? Is your department stable financially? Can you attract and retain quality coaches? Did your event run smoothly? Many of us will be judged on these and other factors. If you don’t work with results in mind, you can never progress. By being results-oriented you can lay out a plan and measure your success or failures as you go.” Sean Blumette, CAA, RMSAA, CIC, Athletics Director, Brooke County Schools
Data Driven -”We have access to data today unlike any other period in history…but what are we doing with that data? Can we find ways to successfully implement feedback from data – and perhaps more importantly – are we going to be able to handle constructive or outright criticisms that we might face if the data provides us with results we don’t necessarily like?” Dr. John Krogstrand, Director of Athletics, Omaha Public Schools
The Visionary Leader - Create Your Journey with Vision…
You've probably heard the old adage, “You can only get where you want to be if you know where you're going.” This statement is as true now as the first time it was stated. So how do you come to know where you're going, so you can get where you want to be?
To start with, goals are crucial. When we set goals, what we're really trying to do is to bring each piece of our lives in line with our overall vision for ourselves. Using a powerful vision-setting process can help you set more effective goals, since you can chart a course that will take you toward and support your vision.
Do you have a vision for each segment of your life? Do you know where you're headed spiritually, socially, relationally, physically, financially, and more?
Use this step by step process to help you create a vision that works for you and your athletics department.
“The journey of a thousands miles, begins with a single step.” - Confucius
Write down your vision for your athletics department. Write a couple of paragraphs describing what you'd like to achieve in the next five to 10 years. There are no limits or boundaries in this phase. In fact, you probably won't precisely articulate your goals the very first time you work on this exercise. A reasonable assertion of your goals is a good place to start.
- In writing your vision, avoid focusing on negativity and focus on what change you do want to bring about.
- For example, if you want to raise additional revenue for your athletics department, avoid wording your statement as: “I don’t want to struggle to provide adequate funding to my teams.” Instead, envision what it would look like if you had all the funds needed to provide your student-athletes with a positive experience, which is what you want.
- Although you may feel challenged when first learning to focus on what you want for your department, it gets easier as you begin to visualize your plan to fruition. Plus, the rewards are spectacular when you execute it consistently. You'll start to notice that your role as an athletics director seems as if you can positively influence change, which you can with a growth mindset.
Visualize - Read your vision statement two-to-three times a day and imagine your goals match your vision. How does your vision statement and goals make you feel? Are you excited and enthusiastic to challenge your coaches, students and programs to reach their full potential? Is it meaningful to you on all levels? This shouldn't take more than a minute to review each time.
Refine - If you feel really good about your vision, that's great. If not, now is the time to make some changes. Continue refining the vision for your department until your vision ignites passion in pursuing your goals. Take time to rewrite each new version.
- At this point, you may be wondering when this process ever ends. Fortunately, it never ends. Your vision will forever be changing slightly throughout your journey, which is good, since your department goals will also change over time.
Review your vision and ensure that it continues to motivate you. This will rapidly usher change into your athletics department. In turn, these changes will demonstrate that you're actually moving towards that vision.
Work with your staff to create vision statements for all your teams utilizing your core values. Consider your mission, vision, goals and guiding principles. If you can get all these visions and core values aligned, imagine what your athletics department will look like!
Why Spend Time On This Process?
Consider all the things you do every day as an athletics administrator. Everything you do is predicated on helping others reach their goals. Motivating your coaches and students to achieve far beyond their imagination. As an athletics director the rewards come in those moments when others succeed!
Creating a vision is the first step to creating the athletics department you desire for your student-athletes. Take time to review your vision and really focus on the experience of living that vision. This gets easier because imagining something enjoyable is pleasurable in itself.
Don't delay; create your vision for your department today. Then, start reviewing and improving it. Your journey as an administrator will change for the better. You'll then be spending your time making visions a reality.
About Scott Garvis
Scott Garvis has been a leader and innovator in intercollegiate and interscholastic athletics development and fundraising for more than 25 years – as an athletics director, coach, association board member, adviser and editorial contributor.
Scott has a record of excellence as Athletics Director, Director of Activities and Assistant Principal, having led the athletics departments at six high schools or school districts in three states. He has achieved unparalleled success at all levels of high school athletics: large public school districts, a small public high school, a private school, and with state and national athletics administrator associations.