A revealing research study was undertaken to understand the thinking process needed for leaders to formulate an effective vision.  The study required participants to formulate leadership visions which were then appraised for quality, originality, elegance, perceived utility, and affective reaction (Partlow, Medeiros, & Mumford, 2015). The research found that the strongest visions were produced when people used relatively simple mental models, and focused on forecasting negative outcomes. Thus, leader performance appears to reflect simplification and an attempt to minimize negative outcomes.

Simply.  Leaders often do not have the time or resources to address every issue that might arise in complex systems. Consequently, “boiling things down” to their essentials allows leaders to focus their efforts on critical concerns. Further, when leaders “boil things down” followers are better able to grasp the leader’s thinking, plans, and vision.

Negatively.  Simplification coupled with anticipating negative consequences led to greater perceived utility and deeper emotional attachment to the vision by team members. Thinking about potential negative outcomes allows leaders to avoid, or minimize, potential errors and devise appropriate backup plans. Considering possible negative outcomes also encourages leaders to continually revise and refine plans and visions as strategy transforms into action.


Partlow, P. J., Medeiros, K. E., & Mumford, M. D. (2015). Leader cognition in vision formation: Simplicity and negativity. Leadership Quarterly26(3), 448–469.