Walker Smith writes:

I was privileged to be asked to speak at the Marketing Society’s annual conference, which was held earlier today at the Royal Opera House. On such occasions, you catch your inspiration as it strikes, and as I was starting to write my speech, I saw the news of the death of Ted Sorenson, a close adviser to J. F. Kennedy before and during his Presidency.

That led me to thinking about leaders and leadership, and what followers value in leaders, so we commissioned some research especially for the conference to try to find out, testing around 27 aspects of both leadership and brands with a sample of more than a thousand UK adults.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise to find The Futures Company saying this, but it turns out that people do value leaders who have “a clear vision of what the future will look like” (it’s 9th in the leadership ranking, with the top cluster) and believe that a leading brand “anticipates the future better than its competitors” (6th in the brand ranking). The charts are below.

But to fulfill this objective, that vision needs to be a proper vision, one that is clear, inspirational and helpful. Mere prediction doesn’t help, and predictions by experts are even less helpful. (The psychologist and business professor Philip Tetlock demonstrates in his recent book that expert predictions were not only more likely to be wrong than right, they were worse than chance; in other words, experts would be more accurate rolling the dice.)

The point is to understand the forces that are shaping the future, and to shape from this an aspirational future based on a clear view of the opportunities – and the risks. People want and need purpose, and they look to leaders to help them to find it. Indeed, purpose is one of the great challenges of business today, and the importance of future-focused purpose is clear from our research.

And this one of the leadership lessons from JFK. We remember his aspirational ambition, in 1961, “of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth”, by the end of the decade. It took eight years and another two Presidents, and Kennedy had been dead for six years by the time Armstrong and Aldrin got there. The vision that he articulated through his leadership outlived him.

The image at the top of the post is from the Wikimedia Commons. The two charts are courtesy of The Futures Company, and are published here under a Creative Commons licence.

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