The visionary leader's tool-kit

In our disruptive world, leadership means learning how to challenge norms and think about purpose beyond profit.

by Management Today staff
Last Updated: 14 May 2019

The early 21st century has been an era of profound technological and social transformation. Leaders increasingly operate in a rapidly changing, highly complex and highly unpredictable environment, which leads to an uncomfortable truth: strategy is no longer a sufficient condition for superior performance.

"In the past, analysis would in most cases provide pathways for making rational choices. Now simple analysis of rapidly changing trends does not lead to robust decisions," says Lalit Johri, senior fellow in international business and programme director of the Oxford Advanced Management and Leadership Programme, a three-week programme at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, which attracts senior executives and civil servants from all over the world.

In designing the programme, Johri researched how leaders are able to make a difference in today’s environment. He found that great leaders don’t necessarily focus on organisational results alone but also give due importance to the social impact of those results. "If society is not winning then organisations cannot win in the long run," he says.

"One of the reasons for the failure of organisations and their leaders in recent times has been an excessive pursuit of self-interest. This may be in the form of aspiring to climb different kinds of ladders – the bonus ladder, the power ladder and the ego ladder. These people are blinkered from society’s expectations of them. You need to be a visionary and responsive leader," he says.

Johri has developed an integrated framework for visionary leadership, the Triple Helix, which links the purpose of the organisation with the tasks successful modern leaders are expected to perform. Here’s what the framework involves.

Visionary, purpose-led leadership means you need to:

  • Comprehend the complexities that exist both internally and externally to your organisation and be able to transmit that complexity clearly to stakeholders.

  • Make sound strategic and operational choices – these range from decisions on investment, supply chain, technology and project management to developing a pipeline of talent and deciding on the type of culture you want to encourage.

  • Be confident to make choices – many choices are dynamic, so you need to help your employees and stakeholders accept the changing nature of the environment. This means continuously challenging the status quo. Through this process you create ‘a learning organisation’, which can demonstrate resilience and flexibility.

The goal of all this is to create value and growth, but not just in a narrowly financial sense. It means value for employees, so that they enjoy the workplace its culture of inclusion, responsiveness and trust. It means sustainable growth that leads to a positive impact on society. It means being a trusted citizen.

An opportunity for discussions, reflections and introspection

Each of these aspects of strategy and leadership - purpose, tasks, results and impacts - are addressed in the Oxford Advanced Management and Leadership Programme. The themes and challenges examined are very contemporary and real.

The programme is not about listening to lectures; it encourages deep conversations in an open environment. There are over 35 tutors, faculty members and visiting CEOs who facilitate sessions, along with a one-to-one hourly coaching session with a personal tutor once a week. Additionally, there is a follow-up coaching session six to eight weeks after the programme ends.

"We are not prescriptive, we open up conversations," says Johri. "You can discuss an issue with fellow participants and reflect and cross-question each other in a respectful, trusting way.

"It is an opportunity to reflect on how and why you make choices. The programme encourages participants to think beyond their usual sense of imagination."

About the Saïd Business School Advanced Management and Leadership Programme

The Advanced Management and Leadership Programme is one of three Saïd Business School Leadership Programmes ranked #2 in the world by the Financial Times’ Executive Education Rankings and #1 in the UK.

Transform your leadership

Discover how to make a positive difference at the Advanced Management and Leadership Programme at Saïd Business School. The next programme starts on 9 June 2019. 


Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Want to encourage more female leaders? Openly highlight their achievements

A study shows that publicly praising women not only increases their willingness to lead, their...

Message to Davos: Don't blame lack of trust on 'society'

The reason people don't trust you is probably much closer to home, says public relations...

Dame Cilla Snowball: Life after being CEO

One year on from stepping back as boss of Britain's largest advertising agency, Dame Cilla...

How to change people's minds when they refuse to listen

Research into climate change deniers shows how behavioural science can break down intransigence.

"Paying women equally would cripple our economy"

The brutal fact: underpaid women sustain British business, says HR chief Helen Jamieson.

Why you're terrible at recruitment (and can AI help?)

The short version is you're full of biases and your hiring processes are badly designed....