Leadership, vision, passion: who's got it?

Having a vision is important. It gives you a compass. A political direction. Whatever else happens, and a lot happens in politics, a vision will keep you facing and moving the right way

Got vision?
Peter Botting
On 1 May 2012 11:18

The easiest way to be the passionate politician that so many claim to be is simply to believe in something. It is easy in politics, especially when your social world and your political world overlap, to just “go with the flow” without identifying - and testing - and probing, exactly what it is you believe. 

But why do you do what you do? What do you want to achieve? Why do spend the time and the money on politics that you do?

I have asked hundreds of wannabe MPs which laws they would introduce, abolish or amend. Surely, that’s not too much to ask of someone who wants to become a legislator? Some have said “Can I get back to you on that?” Others have answered fluently and instantly. But although it is an interesting question and one that focuses the mind of aspirant Parliamentarians, it is a question levelled at strategy or tactics. There is another question that is more important.

What is your vision? For this country and your constituency. After all, politicians are people who influence policy. And unless you are happy with “busy, busy, busy” activity rather than movement, policy must work towards a destination, a goal: a vision. 

So what are the characteristics of a vision? A few thoughts:

1. A vision is big picture. It is forests, not trees.

2. A vision should be very retail. It should be clear and concise. Very brief. Very portable. It needs to be passed from person to person. In pubs. In homes. At work.

3. It needs to be credible. Otherwise people will simply not buy it. And the media will rip it, and the “visionary”, apart.

4. It has to be focused on the good of your community, constituency or country rather than yourself or your party.  

5. By definition, it is on a time-line. A vision is a place or a thing not yet reached or attained. This is where we are. This is where we were. This is where we should go. Such a vision, if well communicated, will persuade people that short term pain is worth it. That there will be “jam tomorrow”.

On a personal basis, it is to do something, not just to be something. Which is why being an MP is not enough. Being an MP is just a tool, a platform, to help you achieve your vision. 

When you know what the vision is you can develop a strategy to get you to the vision. When you have decided on a strategy, you can develop tactics to meet the strategy. But the vision comes first. The vision is the overriding idea, the dream. The vision should be the anchor that holds the rest together.

Sometimes, just sharing the vision, like Martin Luther King did, gives the vision a life of its own. His speech is worth a listen – recommended for all politicos.

Which other leaders have this “vision” thing? There must be 10 surely? Can we get to a list of 20? 

Here, I have listed four leaders of vision. Two are still in power. Who else should be on the list? Am I even right? 

Helmut Kohl. His vision: the reunification of Germany. 

I lived in Germany while Helmut Kohl was Chancellor. It was great to watch this man speak. A conviction politician. His vision and his passion persuaded leaders of other countries, leaders of opposing political parties, the media - and most importantly, the people of West Germany.

Vision verdict: 10/10. Two countries are now one. It is probably fair to say that this would not have happened without his vision, focus and effort. 

Legacy and Impact: 10/10. Country changing. His legacy and impact are facts. Not every leader combines two countries peacefully and with the support of the people of both and the international community. 

Margaret Thatcher. Her vision: that Britain would no longer be the “sick man of Europe”. To make Britain healthy again.

In this I am sure I will be contradicted here by many who have studied Lady Thatcher and her career and achievements and by those who know and knew her - but that is my retail summary, my perception, of her vision. 

Vision verdict: 10/10. It is Europe that appears ill at the moment - propped up largely by the German machine. 

Legacy and impact: 10/10. Country changing. The nature of her legacy and impact is hotly disputed - but no-one disputes that she left a legacy or that she had an impact. Even the left would acknowledge that she put Britain ‘back on the map”. 

Sheikh Mohammed. His vision: that Dubai become what it is today and more.  

Desert replaced by roads and iconic buildings within a 5 - 10 year period. Transforming a desert emirate into a financial centre and a tourist resort. Pretty big picture stuff. 

Vision verdict: 10/10. What he has achieved in Dubai is mind-boggling. By "enabling" and setting things up and then letting businesses get on with it. Still in power, he still has a big “to do” list. We all have “to do” lists - but this man has a record of delivering on his promises. And he does it in a country with zero income tax and zero VAT. 

Legacy and impact: 10/10. Country changing. 

Barack Obama. His vision: crowd-sourced and quasi-delegated.

The 2008 Obama campaign has to be on this list. The “Yes we can” vision harnessed different things for different people - and made it all the more powerful for being so. This crowd sourced and delegated dream or vision may be less concrete than the other three, but it was no less powerful. 

Vision verdict: 10/10. His election could almost have been the vision - and was an unimaginable dream. He gets 10/10 for that. Will he get another term? What will he do with it?

Legacy and impact: Too early to say really - he has had only 3 years in office, the 3 other leaders had (or indeed are currently enjoying) much longer periods in office so it is a bit unfair to compare. 

Having a vision is important. It gives you a compass. A political direction. Whatever else happens, and a lot happens in politics, a vision will keep you facing and moving the right way. 

Political vision is different from political management. Vision can become legacy.  Management seldom does.

Peter Botting is a professional corporate, political and personal messaging strategist. He was integral to the NO2AV campaign and helped put the UK Anti-Slavery Day into law. He tweets at @PeterBotting and you can find more of his work at www.peterbotting.co.uk

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