Avainsana-arkisto: business

When visionary leadership works or does not work?

Key variables and aspects of change management and real-life implementation of strategic visions


Jari Kaivo-oja:

In politics and economics, the aim is to strive for visions and for a high level of strategic excellence. Whether it is managing climate change, managing the coronavirus crisis, dynamic industrial policy, political parties or business models of firms and corporations, we have to pay attention to visionary leadership and the operating styles that are in line with it.

Most of organisations in business and society are interested in change management and implementation. In the field of futures research, there has always been interest in visions, missions and strategies. The aim has been to identify visions, targets, goals and means to achieve these.  Goal rationality and instrumental rationality are central to all human activities. How goals and means are combined determines value rationality of organisations and all human agencies in political, commercial and social life.

Niccolò Machiavelli noted a long time ago:

“It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.”
(Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, year 1513).

One key aspect of future oriented change management is to understand that there are push and pull mechanisms of change processes. Steve Morlidge (Satori Partners ) and Director, C.P.A. Steve Player (Beyond Budgeting Round Table, BBRT) have presented the Change Equation:

D x V x S > R,

where D stands for dissatisfaction, V stands for vision, S stands for first steps and R stands for resistance. We must think about V, D, S and R together as interrelated variables.

V = Vision for the future
D = Sense of dissatisfaction with the present
S = Knowledge of first steps, and
R = Sources of resistance.

This Change Equation is interesting in the sense that it contains a strong statement of the basic prerequisites for the success of visionary leadership. Visionary leadership literature has placed quite a lot of emphasis on the design of the vision itself, as it has been seen to act as a resource magnet and facilitate the mobilisation of tangible and intangible resources for the desirable future. Less attention has been paid to the basic variables of visionary leadership defined in the Change Equation.

Defining the Change Equation is perhaps more important than previously understood in the field of management sciences. The Change Equation states that dissatisfaction, vision and initial steps should be able to reverse the forces of resistance so that the desired vision itself can be realised with some time delay. Poorly defined vision, misjudged initial steps, poorly understood level of dissatisfaction and misconceptions about resistance to change prevent visionary leadership goals from being achieved.

Perhaps increasingly important it would be to be able to assess the relative weight of the three critical variables to the left of the change equation, because if one of the three variables has a high weight in relation to other variables, it should be invested more in management and in visionary leadership than other less weighty variables.

A good definition of vision alone is therefore not enough as a preconditional term for successful visionary leadership. In general, it is therefore important to understand that the vision itself does not yet determine a full success of the visionary management model alone. Dissatisfaction and initial steps are really relevant variables in visionary management process of organisations, whether we discuss about leadership models in companies, political parties or other social organizations.

It is time to rethink the processes of futures orientation and foresight.  

Jari Kaivo-oja

Research Director, Adjunct Professor, PhD
Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku School of Economics
University of Turku

Manufacturing 4.0 – strategies for technological, economic, educational, and social-policy adoption (MFG 4.0) & Transition to a Resource Efficient and Climate Neutral Electricity System (EL-TRAN). Both projects are funded by the Academy of Finland’s Strategic Research Council .

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Background literature

Holstius, Karin & Malaska, Pentti (2004) Advanced Strategic Thinking. Visionary Management. Publications of Turku School of Economics and Businss Administration. Serie A-8:2004. Turku. Web: malaska (utupub.fi)

Kotter, John P. (1996) Leading Change. Harvard Business School Press: Boston, MA. Web: Leading Change – Book – Faculty & Research – Harvard Business School (hbs.edu)

Machiavelli, Niccolò (1513) The Prince. (Orig. De Principatibus / Il Principe). Web: The Prince | Treatise by Machiavelli, Summary, & Facts | Britannica

Manyika, James (2008) Google´s View of the Future of Business. An Interview with CEO Eric Schmidt. The McKinsey Quarterly. September 2008. Web: (5) Google’s view on the future of business: An interview with CEO Eric Schmidt (researchgate.net)

Morlidge, Steve & Player, Steve (2010) Future Ready. How to Master Business Forecasting. John Wiley and Sons. Chichester, United Kingdom. Web: Future Ready: How to Master Business Forecasting | Steve Morlidge, Steve Player | download (b-ok.cc)

Welch, Jack & Byrne, John A. (2001) Jack: Straight from the Gut. New York: Warner Business Books. Web: Jack: Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch (goodreads.com)

Picture: Jan Vašek in Pixabay