The quality that separates a good manager from a great leader can be summed up in one word: vision.

A visionary leader is forward thinking, communicates a collective sense of purpose, and inspires confidence. The ability to craft and communicate a compelling vision is a necessary tool for anyone who wants to make it to the C-Level.

Do Women Lack Vision?

In the Harvard Business Review article entitled, “Women and the Vision Thing,” Herminia Ibarra and Otilia Obodaru compared the leadership qualities of female and male managers by analyzing thousands of 360-degree assessments. Ibarra and Obodaru write:

“The managers filled out self-assessments and invited subordinates, peers, supervisors, and other people they dealt with in a professional context, such as suppliers and customers, to evaluate them on a set of leadership dimensions. In total 22,244 observers participated.”

Though women scored equal to or higher than men in almost all key leadership qualities included in the assessments, men consistently reported that their female peers lacked vision.

Source: Harvard Business Review

  Ibarra and Obodaru write:

“Female leaders were rated lower by their male observers on their capabilities in ‘envisioning.’ That deficit casts a large shadow over what would otherwise be an extremely favorable picture of female executives. The envisioning dimension is, for most observers, a must-have capability.”

A similar study conducted by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman also utilized thousands of 360-degree reviews to determine the different leadership styles of men and women. It too had consistent results.

When it came to assessments completed by men, women were ranked equal to or better than men in all leadership competencies except, “developing strategic perspectives” – or, in a word, vision.

Neither study addressed why male peers fail to recognize leadership qualities in their female colleagues. However, Ibarra and Obodaru stress that women must actively work towards eliminating any perceived weakness in this crucial competency.

Because visionary thinking is so integral to the definition of a great leader, women executives who fail to focus on cultivating and articulating a vision are limiting their career potential as well as their leadership capabilities.

Three Keys to Crafting a Vision

Like any core competency necessary for leadership, the ability to envision can be developed. These keys will help you work towards building a compelling vision that unites and inspires employees, shareholders, and customers on a global scale.

  1. Make time for the big picture. Delegate responsibilities in order to carve out time for forward thinking. Although it can feel like less work is being accomplished at times, remember that a vision grows slowly, building on itself like a pearl.
  2. Articulate your ideas. A vision cannot be developed in isolation. Engaging colleagues in big picture conversations will help you develop your vision. It will also define you as someone who contributes thoughts about corporate strategy.
  3. Listen carefully and attentively. A strong vision encompasses a multitude of perspectives that must be heard before they can be synthesized. Leadership experts James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner write, “The only visions that take hold are shared visions – and you will create them only when you listen very, very closely to others.”

Any negative associations women have with envisioning need to be thrown overboard. Women must reach for more than the sound execution of their regular tasks and responsibilities. After all, the skills that create a very good mid-level manager are not the same skills that define a great leader.

To lead, you must have a vision. It is time to cultivate the big and bold ideas that will propel you and your company to the next level.

Do you think women have a vision problem? How do you cultivate your vision?

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