360 Degrees Forward

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1 – Visionary Leadership

Article by Dr. Riaan du Preez

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I once read that in troubled and ambiguous times, like we live in now, the rivers we must cross as business-persons are rough, and therefore our visions for the future must be the ropes with which we pull ourselves through.  A vision is your vivid and passionate dream or ideal of the future, to which firstly the challenge of “impossibility” has been put, but it is exactly this challenge that should be giving you the energy and encouragement to start planning and working creatively!  Most of us don’t like it when some-one tells us: “Are you crazy!?  That will never work!  You’ll never make it!  That’s too big for you to achieve!  You’ll never have enough capital to start that!”  Especially professionals love this… a challenge.  They’ve basically been in some kind of challenge since very early childhood… always competing.  In their book, The Trusted Advisor, Maister and his  colleagues mention that most professionals were competing for top place in class since grade one; competing for leadership places; competing in sports teams to be the best; competing for limited resources and bursaries etc.  It’s part of their make-up.  They just love a challenge and to prove others wrong. 

Secondly your vision should be crystallized in concrete plans which would motivate not only yourself, but also your family and employees.  This business-plan should be the “roadmap” guiding you and your team into the future.  In most of the professional service practices I analyse and evaluate I find that there is no roadmap.  I even find that in many there is not even a vision!  When challenged to describe their visions, some practitioners tell us they “want to make enough money to retire comfortably or want to build their practice to such a good proposition that they can sell it off for a good profit.”  These are not visions!  They are goals!  More on the difference between visions and goals in later articles...


Thirdly visions and plans should of course go over into actions!  It is sad to think how many dreams, ideas, plans and innovations lie buried in grave-yards that could have changed people’s (and thus communities and even nation’s) circumstances for the better! Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world. (Joel A. Barker)


The intricacy and speed of business environment changes, often force businesses to make internal, large-scale changes rapidly. This in turn requires the leaders of those businesses to quickly develop new leadership proficiencies and may require new attitudes and leadership styles.  Leaders need to become equipped with the tools, knowledge, and opportunities they need to develop themselves and become more effective as to produce effective change, breakthrough brilliance or even enduring greatness for their organization.


Paradigm shifts

From the above it should be clear that at least two paradigm shifts are necessary.  The first is that every professional practice should be regarded as a business enterprise!  The second is that in this enterprise you are the entrepreneur, leader, or actually the CEO, leading this business enterprise of “providing specific professional services” to sustainable success.  I hope this sinks in: In the past we used to be exclusive and highly skilled/knowledgable service providers who happened to be applying our trade as business persons.  Now we are entrepreneurs who happen to be in the business of providing our particular services to fulfil a need that exists!


Tom Peters says that nothing at this moment in time is thus more important than personal and organizational renewal.  But why should we renew?  Because of the ambiguous and fast changing times we are experiencing.  Because the old way of thinking and doing obviously isn’t working.  Because there are new needs and gaps in the market we are not filling.  Because others (read “laypersons”) are scrambling to fill these gaps and reap the value added.  Because these new competitors understand business, and IT and all the drivers of change and profitability better than us.  The following is by now a boring cliché, but true nonetheless: The only constant in future will be change


The question you, as the CEO of your professional services enterprise, should ask yourself is: “What am I doing in these times?”  Entrepreneurs in every conceivable industry all over the world are faced by macro-environmental changes that they have no control over!  However, they are in control of their micro-environment, meaning that which goes on within the walls of their practices.  What are you managing and controlling as effectively, optimally and productively as possible, within the confines of your practice walls?  Do you know your and your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and have you identified the threats facing you or the opportunities that lie waiting?  Are you exploiting the strengths and working on the weaknesses? What management and strategic plans do you have in place and more importantly, what actions are flowing successfully from these plans? 



What is success, or how is it measured?  I believe that success can only be defined and “quantified” when measuring the results of actions and comparing that with the initial strategic plans and goals set.  From this it should be clear that actions, and more to the point the type and quality of these actions, are very important for success.  It might then be that certain people differ from others in the actions they take to realize their dreams, strategies and action-plans, and therefore appear to be much more successful.  Or it could lie even deeper… that people differ in their beliefs and attitudes which drive those actions!  Joe Calloway states: “Deciding to ‘go’ is the first step toward becoming a ‘Category of One’ [i.e. branding] – making the commitment that creates a new level of success.  Unfortunately, it’s also the step usually not taken.  Most companies never decide to go.  They talk a lot about it; they write mission statements and hold meetings, but when it comes down to making that commitment, they back away.  The decision to go must be followed by immediate and significant action.”   



Successful achievement of your practice’s dreams and goals lie in purposeful strategic planning and goal-setting, execution of these plans and monitoring the success of these actions.  Successful entrepreneurs do not waste valuable energy and excessive time brooding on external factors they cannot control.  They rather seek out the opportunities (whether new or just improvements in the status quo) and manage the micro-environment under their control to maximize profit!   



  1. Calloway, J.  (2005). Becoming a Category of One – The complete summary.  In: Soundview Executive Book Summaries.  Vol.27, No.1, Part 3, January 2005, p.2.  Concentrated Knowledge Corporation. Pennsylvania.


  1. Maister, D., Green, C. and Galford, R.  (2000). The Trusted Advisor.  Simon & Schuster. UK Ltd.  London.


  1. Peters, T. (2003). Re-Imagine.  Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age.  London.  Dorling Kindersley Limited.


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