We live in an age of remarkable products and services from inventive thinkers with lofty ideas. These visionary leaders, who don’t think or work like anyone else, have started businesses based on novel concepts, and those whose achievements greatly impact society are afforded special status.
Employees often flock to these visionaries’ companies, hoping the future will offer prosperity within a corporate culture that promotes free thought, excitement and cutting-edge innovations. But some visionary leaders can be difficult bosses whose brainstorming and idealistic tendencies frustrate employees and create career obstacles.
As the term implies, “visionary” leaders like to walk among the clouds, devoting themselves to the future, the impossible and the things that could be. Unfortunately, businesses must be run with both a widescreen view and in-the-trenches focus, so pure visionaries with only big-picture mindsets are vulnerable to losing track of their enterprises.
While everyone admires visionary thinking, too much of it creates a dangerous imbalance. Fortunately, visionaries can learn effective ways to keep their companies healthy and productive.
Visionary leaders are bent on taking things to the next level, solving the unsolvable problem, and developing something unprecedented or revolutionary. They passionately blaze uncharted trails. While such ambition is worthy, pure visionaries tend to be interested only in conceptualizing business ideas, and they often fail to involve themselves in the execution stages. Their brains are fast-thinking, idea-generating machines, with each concept analogous to a sheet of paper quickly torn from a thick pad.
Is your mind camped on the “what ifs?” of your business, while other issues are pushed aside? Do you wish you could devote all your time to brainstorming activities while someone else handles the other major responsibilities on your plate?
If you’re a visionary leader, you have many ideas racing through your mind at the same time, each in a different stage of incompletion. One idea may progress to a certain point, only to be superseded by another. Some ideas will be abandoned after a few primary thoughts, while others will morph into concrete descriptions for your staff to pursue.
Visionary leaders are the conceptualizers. They rely on their tactical thinkers—the ones with practical know-how of processes, procedures, policies and planning—to turn ideas into reality. Can you relate to this scenario?
Noted psychotherapist and leadership consultant Dr. Beatrice Chestnut describes visionary leaders’ idealistic tendencies in The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace (Post Hill Press, 2017). Visionaries enjoy thinking about what might be and how companies can improve. They’re excited by new ideas—primarily those that come from their own mind so they can maintain control.
Visionaries are strictly future oriented. The present isn’t as interesting unless there’s room for improvement. They find their optimism and hope in the next chapter, and they see their role as enhancing lives by creating new possibilities. They love to think outside the box and push the envelope of what’s considered feasible.
Visionary leaders view circumstances through a cup-half-full filter, where negative thoughts are avoided and only positive outlooks are permitted. This helps feed their creative juices and blocks negative emotions that hinder them. Negativity deters the creativity visionaries need to feel purposeful and happy.
If you recognize some of these tendencies in yourself, you may be a visionary leader. And while you may greatly benefit your organization, your focus on future possibilities may distract you from critical responsibilities. This jeopardizes your operation and makes life harder for your staff because you’re likely neglecting the tactical aspects of business. A qualified leadership coach can help you assess your visionary tendencies and guide you toward a more balanced, healthy leadership style. The goal is not to quash your visionary approach, but to bring it into balance with your other responsibilities.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
- Dream optimistically, encouraging and supporting their people’s inventive activities.
- Are always working on “the next big thing,” as Dr. Chestnut puts it. They want their organization to be a leader in its field, setting the pace for others to try and catch.
- Develop great brainstorming skills that overcome challenges most leaders would deem infeasible.
- Turn negatives into positives. More is always accomplished with a can-do approach, which lifts morale and feeds the visionary culture.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt, looking toward a positive outcome.
- Are often sought after to create solutions, bringing notoriety and opportunity to their organization.
From a negative standpoint, visionary leaders can be overly idealistic and creative. Their focus on the future draws them away from important tasks. They:
- Have too many ideas going at one time to properly prioritize, manage or execute.
- Brush off negative concerns from their staff, avoid problematic issues and overlook warning signs or mistakes.
- Find ways around roadblocks that impede their visionary process, often breaking the rules. Employees may then feel resentful and frustrated.
- Lose interest in non-creative tasks and duties. They ignore everyday responsibilities when their ideas seem more compelling.
- Prioritize activities based on what’s most fun for them.
- Have blind spots that lead them away from the actions required to understand and address serious issues.
- Are so unfocused that they fail to grasp current trends or the business climate, thereby hurting the company.
- Have vague conceptual ideas that management cannot understand or appreciate.
- Aren’t detail oriented and have difficulty performing accurate work, meeting commitments or completing assignments.
- Think and speak so rapidly, caught up in their own little world, that they stop listening to others.
- Have such a strong emotional need to dream that they take their company in the wrong direction. They unconsciously feed their personal needs more than those of the company.
- Seek quick wins and disassociate from anyone who slows their creative process (with facts).
- Fail to address problems they deem insignificant.
Strong visionary tendencies can render leaders inefficient and cause pain to those around them. While companies certainly need visionary thinkers, everyone must maintain the proper balance. The best leaders successfully juggle the present and future, focusing on the organization’s urgent needs and prioritizing them over tempting pie-in-the-sky ideas.
What Makes a Visionary Tick?
Understanding the visionary personality helps us forge productive business relationships.
The visionary’s mind runs far and fast. Ideas come naturally; the more unique, the better. The most active visionaries fashion ideas that interconnect and form a clever master plan.
Visionary leaders find joy in dreaming big. They’re drawn to considerable challenges, huge potential and foreseeable payoffs. They have “bright shiny object” syndrome, as Dr. Chestnut explains, and are distracted by the latest, greatest idea to come along. (More mundane ideas are shoved aside.) They become curators of unfinished ideas and plans.
Visionaries love learning and the freedom to use acquired knowledge. Corporate systems, procedures and processes that slow them down or interfere with their creativity are regarded as roadblocks. Visionary leaders resist limiting forces like rules, management decisions or protocol because creativity “requires” boundless autonomy. They see brainstorming as an imperative privilege, one that outweighs all others. It gives them a strong sense of fulfillment and purpose.
Visionaries require positivity to foster creativity. They actively avoid difficult or unpleasant experiences, sometimes at any cost. Past problems are overlooked or put behind them to maintain a rosy future picture. Current problems may never reach their radar screen. To the visionary, creation is the primary good that eclipses most corporate problems.
Leaders with visionary tendencies enjoy living in their imagination, where they can vividly see their dreams while remaining sheltered from the hardships of daily issues. They choose to see a world that reflects their hopes without real-world disappointments intruding.
Visionaries typically disrespect members of the management team who raise problems. Negative feelings make it difficult to cope on a daily basis, and they may feel ganged up on when management presses issues that require tough decisions. Tactical decisions, especially in tense situations, are not a visionary’s strong suit.
The idea phase is much more desirable than the processing phase, where resources are assigned, schedules and deadlines are issued, and implementation tasks are identified, Dr. Chestnut explains. Visionaries want to start the ball rolling and have others take it from there. Implementation plans are grueling for them, as the freedom to think and create seems stifled. The visionary feels imprisoned under these conditions.
Colleagues and executive coaches who understand visionary leaders’ propensities can help them recognize the difficulties they cause and work with them to adjust behavioral patterns. Healthy doses of perspective, concern and determination are vital.
Coaching Promotes Balance
Visionaries can inspire an entire organization to new heights and compel people to accomplish the seemingly impossible. But when taken to extremes, the negatives overshadow the positives. When too little attention is paid to daily business needs, all the bright ideas in the world cannot keep the ship from sinking. Executive coaches, supervisors and mentors must emphasize the consequences in ways that preserve enthusiasm.
Qualified executive coaches will help visionaries forge a healthier balance between creating and leading. Visionaries must come face to face with their blind spots and recognize how their obsession with envisioning is impeding organizational performance.
Time management is one of the primary areas requiring adjustment. Visionaries must understand that tactical leadership skills are equally as important as their visionary abilities. Coaching teaches them how to partition time and effort. Successful visionary leaders learn to ration dream time so other responsibilities are met. Limited time assigned to visionary work can be sufficiently rewarding.
Visionaries must also learn that others may not think as quickly as they do, Dr. Chestnut explains. Slowing the pace to accommodate others is an adjustment worth making. Creative ideas should be prioritized before investing staff time. Asking people to tackle multiple brainstorms is too overwhelming. Only selective ideas—not all—will be processed. Direct reports with tactical expertise can determine which ideas can be implemented; leaders should accept their reasoning.
Living up in the clouds robs visionaries of life experiences and rewards on the ground, Dr. Chestnut adds. They miss out on the relationships and adventures involved in running the company. True, tactical leadership can be painful, frustrating and wearisome. But instead of avoiding these feelings, out of fear or insecurity, visionary leaders should face them, grow professionally, and build character, skill and confidence. Great leaders are forged out of adversity, not pure pleasure. Ideas are implemented through relationships and engagement.
How to Work for a Visionary Leader
Visionaries are often distant and disconnected, so employees may wonder if their boss knows what’s going on. Employees should reach out and find ways to make a connection.
Employees who speak positively and confidently will find it easier to gain a visionary leader’s respect. Instead of citing problems, describe opportunities with solutions. Visionaries shun critical personalities. Consistently bringing problems to your boss will worsen conditions.
Showing appreciation for the visionary’s brainstorming skills builds trust. Leaders will respond with mutual appreciation and a willingness to listen to helpful ideas. Trusted employees can help visionary leaders see the things they need to see. Support leaders’ efforts to handle tactical duties.
Engaging leaders about their ideas further enhances the relationship. Express interest in the vision and help explain it in ways the staff can follow. Ask questions about specifics, applications and how the idea supports company activities. Visionaries will be better able to distinguish the more promising ideas from the mediocre. Help visionaries pick their battles.
Offer to assist with research, setting up meetings, or introductions to other experts. Stay close to brainstorming sessions to monitor excessiveness, and divert leaders to the tactical side, when needed.
Help visionary leaders form new habits relating to time management, operational skills and relationship-building. A well-rounded leader takes care of the business while dreaming about the future.