So You Think You're a Visionary Leader

So You Think You're a Visionary Leader

You can learn the ways of a visionary leader. In essence such a person can see around a corner into the future and inspire others to see and execute on that vision,

Now test yourself against common behaviors of such a leader.

I have known quite a number of remarkable futurists in my decades of consulting practice. Each took their organization to new levels of excellence and profitability. However, one stands out above all the others. I recently asked him “Do You See Blue Sky or Dark Clouds in your industry?” His business was going through a bit of a slump but he had an irrepressible sense for greater opportunities in the future. He saw blue sky.

o What made this leader stand out from his peers in the same organization/industry?

o Why was he like the optimistic child who viewed a pile of manure and started digging for the pony?

The thing about this leader is that he saw both the obstacles as well as new possibilities for the future.

What six behaviors made him such a remarkable visionary?

He had a

1.  Global Business Perspective

The problem with many a successful business is that the leadership can become internally focused. What worked in the past is assumed to be the predictor for future success. However, this leader was able to appreciate and integrate multiple sociopolitical and global factors like the growing scarcity of water, nutrition needs of a greatly expanding and mobile world population, advances in technology like that of AI , and the changing nature of the workforce that included millennials. He truly saw the bigger picture.

2.  Realist/Optimist Disposition

Futurists are not clueless or careless dreamers. They can look at the facts about their organization, good and bad, and press on to new business frontiers. That makes them courageous realists. However, what makes them stand out from the pack is that they see viable business opportunities where others see obstacles. They ask questions like, “How can we the downturn in the industry to our advantage?” Furthermore, their native optimism spurs them on in the face of opposition.

The motto of this leader was "They thought we were buried, but they did not know we were seeds"

3.  Openness to Change 

Most of us have a love/hate relationship with change. We may hear the drum beat “change or die”. We resist the imperative to alter our ways for a multitude of reasons. Ours may be conscious or unconscious, based on a fear of going out of our comfort zone, spurred by a tendency to rest on the laurels of our success, or a deep longing for the “good old days”. But in the end, the visionary leader has a compelling reason to lead change. And come hell or high water, change happens.

4.  Wide Network With External Thought-Leaders

Many senior leaders confine their network to their own organization. However visionaries have the opportunity to meet with thought-leaders beyond their own company and discipline. In so doing they enjoy the fruits of cross-fertilization. All this exposure to a wider circle enriches their capacity to innovate and expose their organization to new ideas. They also read widely. I saw that Gates reads an average of 50 books per year. An executive friend of has studied successful entrepreneurs . Two factors makes these folks successful. A passion for what they do and a network of giving colleagues.

5.  Deep in the Arts and History

 I once taught a Humanities course in a Business Management degree program. One course assignment was for the students to visit a museum, art galley, cultural event from their ethnic , or read a biography of some important historical figure (other than in business). The assignment was then to relate this experience to their business context. The revelation was that many of them had confined their whole life experience to the business world.

Great visionary leaders not only read widely but they travel extensively, have broad experience in the arts, and are insatiably curious about everything around them. They then import this experience to their business context that becomes richer as a result. All work and no play truly makes “Jack/Jill dull-”. The leader I work with has all this intellectual and cultural breadth and it continually informs his work experience.

6. A Finger on the Pulse of the Customers

Every visionary leader has a research-based perspective on the present and future needs of the customer. In addition, both the leader and customer are in agreement as to this growth need. One stand out reason for the buy-in is that the cause being espoused is far bigger that any narrow perspective they may have. The cause also serves the common good. That data may be derived from voice of the customer surveys, trends in the industry, best practices of competitors, or break through technology emerging from R&D. In some instances it comes from the instinct of one leader. One IT Executive told me recently, "I can imagine a day when we no longer need apps .".

I realize that this article is based the anecdotal evidence of one leader who embodied all these behaviors


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