Visionary Leadership

A visionary leader perceives challenges and growth opportunities before they happen, positioning people to produce extraordinary results that make real contributions to life.


A visionary leader perceives challenges and growth opportunities before they happen, positioning people to produce extraordinary results that make real contributions to life.

I have begun working with a select group of people around the world who are interested in fostering visionary leadership in their own lives, and will be helping me to develop audio and video materials on this topic that will be made available free through my website.

I asked them, Who comes to mind when you think of visionary leaders?  Here is a compilation of their responses:

At core, everyone has a self with a capital “S.”  That Self is the source of their intuition, their understanding, and their best.  The core is a spiritual place.   Inspiring leaders lead from that place, without apology, and importantly, without fear.  When a leader speaks from that place, there is recognition from the Self of the listeners. That recognition allows the hearer to discern the message as valid, as something they can get behind.  Inspiring leaders evoke an “Amen,” confidence, and hope.

Maya Angelou, for her consistent, inclusive outreach through writing on tough and challenging topics, and for being willing to consistently stand up and lead as an African-American woman beginning in the 1950s.As a poet, she taps into her core and exposes it in a way that inspires us.

Jeff Ashe of Oxfam for his devotion and hard work to developing micro-finance and woman’s savings groups. 


Barbara Brennan for her ability to clarify and communicate her gifts in order to empower others to achieve their greatest potential as humans and healers.

Barbara Jordan, African American congresswoman from Texas for her clarity, brilliance and understanding of justice.

The Dalai Lama, for his ability to incorporate new ideas into his traditional framework while being a messenger for peace and enlightenment for the world

Max DePree. He was the first person in my personal experience that was willing to be explicit about the importance of God— a Higher Power—in his life and therefore in his role as a CEO of Herman Miller. He said, unabashedly, that before every decision he and his Board [Max was the Chairman] had to make, he would ask for a moment of silence so he could check in with his “Chairman” above. The rest could use that moment as they wished. And if Max did not get a clear signal from his “CEO”, the decision either required more dialogue and or needed to be revisited. Spiritual development and leadership development are synonymous.

Millard Fuller, founder and former president of Habitat for Humanity, for making millions by 29 and then creating a nonprofit that builds homes for those in need for the price materials and with the labor of volunteers.

Hildy Gottlieb for her insight and commitment to helping people realize that it is often our thinking that prevents us from realizing our goals of effective change in the world. She is president of Help 4 NonProfits and the Community Driven Institute.


Michelle James for her commitment to bring creative expression into the work environment in a very deep and meaningful way.  And her ability to create safe spaces so people can express their own uniqueness without judgment and in collaboration with others.

Joanna Macy, for (a) her courage in uniting faith and development, (b) her creativity as demonstrated by creating participatory rituals for people to heal their anxieties over disturbing social issues, like nuclear waste disposal, and (c) her ability to help people find practicable and actionable ways for people to constructively and collectively take responsible action.

Nelson Mandela for his courage and conviction and perseverance against all odds to free and unite people for justice.

Tom Munekke of the Uplift Network for his unswerving devotion to finding and enhancing the good.

Karel Murray – Karel has overcome some adversity in her life and has created her own vision. She shares that vision with others and helps them find their own vision through her book, her website, her training engagements and her e-zine. Her message is sincere and she helps individuals reach their aspirations.

Barak Obama for (a) his ability to galvanize and inspire people with the vision that we can transform our consciousness & world. Nothing seems hurried, good decisions are made at the right time. (b) his inspirational messages were trounced early on as giving us false hope, false expectations, yet his response was that “in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.”  That spoke to people’s inner Amen, and what they want to believe deep down about the stories of their country and themselves. (c) for his ability to inspire a country and implement a grassroots organization of massive scale which gave people the tools and opportunity to truly participate in shaping change.


Bill Strickland – His work with inner city youth in Pittsburgh just screams visionary leader. He created the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and another entity. I worked with him when I was staff for the Pennsylvania Arts Alliance and Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania. He was a board member then. Bill has gained significant national prominence over the years.

Kirk Weisler  the Help Desk Institute’s “Chief Morale Officer” comes to mind because he’s not afraid to use the L word – Love.  He speaks to the innocent and good in us.  He can take a whole room full of IT professionals and have them in rapt attention by reading them stories.  Goofy, unabashedly loving and leading is what he does for a living.  He inspires people.

Meg Wheately and Debbie Frieze for their work with the Berkana institute. I am inspired by the way they honor and bring forth the wisdom from people wherever they go and that they work hard to go to places that ‘need going to.’

Jim Wolfensohn, for his successful, humanitarian efforts to link social criteria to measuring the success of international development work, asking economists and politicians to include the value of a “child’s smile” along with financial metrics.

Thanks go to Naava Frank, Inge Hafkemeyer, Carrie Heiman, Przemek Lada, Adrienne Nichols, Irv Rubin,  and Debra Witt for their contributions to the list above.

Please respond to this post by adding your own choices for visionary leaders. It will make the conversation richer and broader.  


About the author

I help leaders with change, innovation, and growth. My latest book is "Getting Innovation Right." My first book, "Getting Change Right," was a business bestseller.