Visionaries need little introduction. By their very nature, they effortlessly capture the spotlight. A lifetime of books, articles, and research papers have been written in awe of them. You would think that with all these resources, it would be easy for a Visionary to find a well-laid path to growth. But this rarely happens.
The distinct challenge for Visionaries lies in their strengths. Their desire to start new things, coupled with their ability to cast vision, often places them at the top of their business, organization, division, or department. Having many natural “leadership gifts,” they are often thrust into or assumed to be leading.
But this position at the top isn’t all peaches and cream. It can be lonely there. It can also be hard to get real, hard feedback on your performance and your personality. Visionaries often have more “permission” in our society to have rough edges. While there are advantages here, this permission can also rob a Visionary of the drive or awareness they need to change to round out those rough edges of our personality and grow our leadership abilities.
Visionaries then often find themselves out of their depth. They don’t realize how far out they’ve gotten, and then some event or failure will suddenly force them to take a long hard look in the mirror. They recognize a big change is needed. It’s a painful process that we seldom see from the outside.
In this article, I’m going to dive into who these Visionaries are, why they are, and what specific actions they can take to overcome their unique challenges. (If you’re a Visionary, you’re probably not going to want to read this whole article. You’ve got other things to do, and that’s okay! Feel free to scroll to the bottom of this article to the section entitled Becoming Brilliant).
If you don’t already know your style before we get started, I’d encourage you to take the free Leadership styles quiz now.
Getting to know the Visionary
Where would we be without Visionaries? It’s truly an unimaginable world. Since the beginning of time, they’ve captured our imagination, filled us with inspiration, challenged the status quo, and help us all move forward (no matter how much we drug our feet along the way).
Visionaries, one of the three natural styles in the Synergist model, embody the “Why?” of life. Their passion, creativity, enthusiasm, charisma, and optimism is incredibly infectious. You can’t help but think bigger in the presence of a strong visionary. Just having a visionary in the room can lift spirits and create greater optimism and enthusiasm on the entire team, aligning them and inspiring them to go after that singular purpose.
They are literally wired to start new things and solve big problems. The moment of inception or solution that any idea is discovered for an incredibly tricky problem is the high point of endorphin release for the Visionary. They genuinely feel good engaging in these activities. And longing for that next endorphin rush, they will immediately jump ship in search of the next big idea.
This is why they almost always start with “yes” and can be caught chasing idea squirrels and shiny objects that demand their attention at the expense of their current responsibilities or their #1 imperative 5 minutes ago.
Their endorphin seeking ways (and before you judge, you should know every style has a flaw/strength combination) also gives them an incredible capacity, even desire, for risk-taking. They make big bets, fail frequently, get up, and do it again no worse for the wear.
Visionary’s challenges often center on their need for a team and their difficulty working within that team.
They need a team.
A visionary on their own will quickly realize (faster than most) that they don’t have the full picture. They struggle to get things done and gain momentum on their own. If they work alone for long enough, the tangled web of competing visions banging around in their head can make it challenging to clarify what they need to DO.
This is why you’ll often see a Visionary recruit one or more Operators to the cause. Simon Sinek, in his book Start with Why, calls these individuals “What?” people. Wickman and Winters, in their book Rocket Fuel, call these individuals Integrators.
By whatever name you give it, this Visionary/Operator combination is powerful. It works great for a time, especially in a new business, organization, or division. However, there are some serious scale and longevity issues. One Visionary can only quarterback so many Operators. A single wheel hub can only house so many spokes. And Operators can quickly get burned out by the Visionary’s constant stream of ideas and decrees.
Visionaries eventually understand these shortcomings intuitively, which leads them to bring in a Processor, a CFO, an HR Professional, a fancy consultant, or numbers guy, someone who thinks in terms of system and process. These relationships, however, tend to be like oil and water. Where the V/O combination typically starts off incredibly successful, then wears out over time. The V/P combination doesn’t have much of a honeymoon period. And just like oil and water, they don’t naturally mix well. Still, to build an incredible organization and legacy at scale, the Visionary need to find a way to work with their more “No” inclined processor.
A high-quality V/P relationship doesn’t happen by chance. Queue the Synergist. Synergist (or Visionaries and Processor who develop their Synergist skills) bridge the gaps between the two (and with Operators as well). This allows each of the styles to bring their strengths and fully employ the strengths of others.
Visionaries need the full VOPS to make real, lasting progress toward their vision, aspirations, and dreams. But that means working in an environment where 3/4 of your team (or more) aren’t wired like you.
They struggle to work IN a team.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Visionary at their desk. They tend to float in and out of the office, meetings, and responsibilities as they please. Not out of any form of laziness, but instead that relentless pursuit of BIG. I like to joke that, in a meeting with a Visionary, the one thing you can be sure they won’t talk about is whatever was on the agenda. Even if they read the agenda, they’ve probably already solved the issue in their mind and are excited to think through their new idea with you.
Visionaries will jump from one issue to another and another in a single breath. A Visionary’s mind is a whirlwind of what could or should be. They can hold seemingly incompatible notions with ease, and sharing those notions with different team members can leave everyone scratching their heads.
Visionaries live at 30,000 feet and ten years in the future. It is hard for them to come back down to today’s ground level problems, especially when rote, detailed decision-making is needed. This can cause Visionaries to frustrate a team while they are trying to solve the problem of today. They may even opt out of the process altogether, leaving the OPS team to try to deal with all the details and fill the vision gap.
Being highly persuasive (and often holding power in the organization), Visionaries can take a whole team up in the clouds with them and keep them there, while today’s unaddressed problems grow larger and larger.Being highly persuasive (and often holding power in the organization), Visionaries can take a whole team up in the clouds with them and keep them there, while today's unaddressed problems grow larger and larger. Click To Tweet
Then something fails, and the rubber band snaps. The Visionary plane comes crashing down to the real world, leaving unnecessary collateral damage. We call this swooping and pooping or helicopter management, and it’s like cancer for any team that needs to perform at a high level.
Fortunately, 100% of these challenges can be remedied. Here are three principles you can use to harness your Visionary gifts and overcome your Visionary challenges.
Put a mirror on the floor
From their position at the top of whatever they lead or run, it can be incredibly tricky for Visionaries to get the critical feedback and insight they need to grow. For most other styles, there is someone “above” them that hold them accountable, offering feedback, and demanding results.
Visionaries often don’t have this by default. In a problematic team environment, it is often the Visionary that has to change the most and to change first. They think things are great, while their team is struggling desperately. They believe the vision is clear, but their team is caught up in the weeds and whiplashed by each new “most important thing.”
As a Visionary, then you need to know what you look like from below. How are you impacting your team?
You need your team to help you get better. You need to hear when you’re leading well. You need feedback when you mess up. You need a healthy challenge function from your team.
You want to start thinking in terms of we, not I, and will often have to do this intentionally and visually with your team. It will make you a better leader, and they will become better leaders by your example!
These are horse blinkers to keep you going straight ahead, not turn signals for your car. When coaching Visionaries, I often say, your job is to not only create the vision but to repeat it again and again and again.
Work with your team to identify the 3-5 most important goals you need to achieve together. Then look at how you can leverage your visionary strengths for the entire process. Otherwise, you’ll immediately start chasing squirrels and dreaming of the next 3-5 initiatives then, often unknowingly, distract people and resources from the current objectives frustrating your team and crippling your results along the way.
One technique to help with this is to build a sandbox that you can “play in” somewhere you can scratch the Visionary itch to start and solve. However, and this is important, do it outside of the business or organization you lead. Buy a farm, enjoy a hobby, volunteer for a cause, lead a business group, or pursue other passions. A sandbox will do wonders for your sanity and fulfillment without sacrificing the sanity of your team.
Learn to love “done”
This is a hard one, and it’s not for the faint of heart. For a Visionary, done is the opposite of starting and solve. I know for me, as a Visionary, done is actually a little scary. It’s over the end. The finality can be intimidating. It’s a strange feeling when you stand in the moment that what is catches up with what once only could or should be.
However, within this strangeness, there is actually an immense joy. In all their longing for the next best thing, Visionaries can even disconnect from the satisfaction of completion, leaving their heads full of ideas, but their hearts empty.
If you can learn to love done, you can experience the full joy of seeing your idea pass all the way through to completion. You will see your legacy start to materialize before your eyes. I can tell you from personal experience that there is no experience quite like it.
If you want to learn to love done, I’d encourage you, start small. Choose a task for today. When you complete it, choose a task for next week, next month, and so on. Practice returning to your vision and sharing it repeatable to your team.
If you’d like to continue to develop your Visionary leadership gifting, I’d encourage you to take our online course How to be an Exceptional Visionary Leader.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and can’t wait to see you become a brilliant visionary leader.