To me, a real vision is what defines a good leader. Someone with vision is able to see beyond the daily grind of running a team/branch/entire organization and look forward to the bigger picture. Detail-oriented types exist to make sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible on a daily basis and that all the minutia are handled. A leader utilizes these folk while looking ahead to the future. It is hard to progress, change, and grow when one is always focused on making the here and now work. There has to be some room to see beyond.
So a truly great leader is one who not only HAS the vision, but is also able to pursue it and convince others to do the same while still finding the means to keep everything flowing well every day. Sound lofty? Probably, but we can dream.
I completely agree with Paul that vision is an essential quality in a good leader. In addition to vision, a good leader also needs the ability to 'sell' the vision by providing good reasons for moving in a particular direction while simultaneously eliciting a feeling in managers that they are an essential and effective part of new processes. Not everyone can do that but those who can accomplish great things. When we go back out into the trenches, it helps to feel that we are valued members of a team working toward a commonly desired positive outcome. Communicating that vision so that it is at the forefront of our daily efforts requires skill and compassion, and the best leaders are able to do so.
There is no question in my mind that vision is a critical quality for successful leadership. Kouzes and Posner metion it as the top characteristic or skill for leadership. I personally think it is also really important for leaders to have exceptional communication abilities, including a predisposition to listen to opposing and unpopular points of view. Another important thing is to be able to pick up the pieces after failure without descending into despair or feeling like a victim.These are some practical points that tend to help a leader survive and thrive. I also agree with Deborah's last sentence regarding compassion. Without it, leaders become remote and brittle -- almost untouchable.
To add on to all of the above, I think another important characterisic is the person's attitude. A good leader has a posititve attitide but not a distorted one (i.e., one where everything is rosy) which means that the person's attitude needs to be credible.
A recent post on Stephen Abram's blog, Stephen's Lighthouse takes a list about the differences between rich and poor peoples' attitudes and asks readers to change "rich and poor" and think instead about different kinds of librarians, including those with leadership capacity.
The list does engage in a bit of stereotyping, but I think it's a thought-provoking post. I definitely recognize some of the negative attitudes in my workplace - even in myself. So it's always good to be reminded of these things.
What makes a good leader? I agree with Paul Stonebridge about being VISIONARY. This is the punch line in quality leadership. Any Head of any type of library must look beyound the four walls, operate in a MACRO level rather than restrict his/her mngt practices to micro things like daily procedures, operations etc that can be confidently handled by middle mngt level. Good Head librarians should filter down quality leadership skills to all stratas of the organisational structure. Receptive to making paradigm shifts, open minded and not defensive to suggestions from all ranks of people under their care, admit when at fault rather than trying to be supermen or wonderwomen who know it all. Good Head librarians strategise and empower and acknowledge the abilities, skills and talents of their staff and to make sure that these attributes are maximised for the betterment of the individuals and the institution. Head Librarians must learn and know how to listen and brave to make on the spot decisions, risk takers and fully take on the brunt of all responsibilities.
Vision is what separates leaders from managers but I do not want to discount the importance of managerial skills. Vision without balance can be delusional. Knowing where you are sets direction, purpose, and effort to the most constructive destination. What's the old Alice saying, "If you don't know where you're going any road will take you there." Knowing where the "daily" effort should focus is different from knowing where the strategic plan is leading. Knowing where you are determines the best route to your goals. If a leader cannot balance the reality of the day with the wonders of the future there will be trouble. The only way to know your program, your staff, and your efforts are on course is to manage and monitor with constant assessment.