True Vision

In this episode, Sam Shriver, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at The Center for Leadership Studies, talks with Julian Walks about the importance of vision in leadership.

Episode Transcript


Welcome to The Center for Leadership Studies podcast, an exploration of contemporary leadership issues with experts from a variety of fields and leadership backgrounds. In this episode, Sam Shriver, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at The Center for Leadership Studies, talks with Julian Walks about the importance of vision in leadership.

Sam Shriver

Everyone thinks of somebody when they think of the term leadership. So I’m interested; who do you think of and why?

Julian Walks

When I think of who in history I think of as a great leader, and I’ll just stick with people in my lifetime. I would look at Ronald Reagan. I would look at Martin Luther King. They’re unique in my mind because they were political leaders on different sides of the spectrum, and they had believable leadership qualities. You can’t really believe most politicians really believe what they’re saying. If you had to say, does he believe what he’s telling you? Where would you put that on a scale of one to ten? Reagan, I put on a nine and a half on a scale of one to ten. Martin Luther King ten, on a scale of one to ten. I kind of leave out religious leaders because they have to believe in what they’re doing. You could say Moses was a great leader, but so what? He had a lot of help.

When we talk about leadership, to me, having a vision that you absolutely existentially believe in is the number one core quality. I think everybody could have a vision that they believe in, but I also think most people in political life or in corporate life adopt a vision because it serves some personal goal to adopt that interest and really zealously believe in it. And of course, as they say, he could fool some people some of the time, whatever. But to me, that’s not leadership. The great leaders, again, whether it is corporate religion or politics, start with a vision that they absolutely believe in.

I’ll give you an anecdote about an incident that happened during a meeting with Martin Luther King when I was there.

Sam Shriver

Yeah, just for clarity’s sake, here you were actually in a room with Martin Luther King.

Julian Walk

We’re in a church in Montgomery and part of the civil rights movement, and there was a guy named James Foreman who was the very radical leftist leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, and there was Martin Luther King who was the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, sometimes called Slick. So you had SNCC, and you had Slick, and that was, if you will, the more conservative civil rights movement.

In a meeting, there’s probably about 50 people in the meeting and were kind of like at a panel on the stage, and Worman said, you know, if the white leadership in Montgomery won’t come to the table, we’re going to kick the legs out. Martin Luther King somehow had the ability to just calm things, just keep the world smooth, even, and calm, saying you don’t really have to kick the legs out.

In fact, if you kick the legs out, what’s really going to happen is you’re going to waste the next five years rebuilding the table before you could even talk about sitting down at it again. So clearly, he took a pacifist approach. However, he never let go. Discrimination was discrimination. It was existentially wrong. It needed to be wiped out. Great leadership starts with a vision that you articulate, and you absolutely believe in.


After completing his studies at the University of Pittsburgh, Julian Walks began his career as a systems programmer in the education environment and worked on early efforts in interactive computing and timesharing, culminating in his role as the associate director of a large multi-university computer network. Julian then moved into the commercial sector, rising to principle with Booze, Allen, and Hamilton, where he focused on management strategy issues and technology consulting for a wide variety of industries. For the majority of his career, Julian was a technology executive for major banking institutions. During his 18 years with Citibank, he managed the development of Citi’s online banking system and software to support Citi’s international consumer franchises. He was also technology head and managed several business operations in Europe. Julian spent the last three years of his career as CIO for e-commerce at First Union.

During this period, he revamped the bank’s Internet and phone service products, and he played a major role in leading the consolidation of technology operations between First Union and Wachovia after the two banks merged. Since retiring, Julian has served on and as a volunteer consultant to nonprofit boards. He has worked with over 20 clients, focusing mostly on strategic planning and board development.

Thank you for listening to The Center for Leadership Studies podcast. Through its innovative leadership development programs, The Center for Leadership Studies has helped millions of individuals across the globe become more effective leaders and has helped thousands of organizations build more productive and engaged workforces. For additional information on our services and products, please visit or call 800. 330.2840. At The Center for Leadership Studies, we build leaders.