Upon learning my job description was changing to “visionary,” I have to admit I was a bit dismayed. Visionary? Really? Like a dreamer, a head-in-the-clouds type?
I was put off until I learned the traits and duties of a successful visionary. Turns out, I already was one. Being a visionary and an entrepreneur is like bread and butter. The role of a visionary in business isn’t like the version portrayed in science fiction and fantasy. They don’t literally see into the future, although some might think they do.
They see an envisioned future. Visionaries see their version of the future.
There is a difference between being a visionary and being a visionary leader. Visionary leaders are almost always the CEO or president. Usually, they are an entrepreneur and/or founder. I posit that no one would ever start a company without being a visionary. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose vision, either. Building a well-loved local pizza joint, or an excellent dry cleaner, is just as gratifying as building a conglomerate; it’s just on a different scale.
Visionary duties often include creative problem solving, major external relationships, new ideas/ideation, rainmaker and identifying major players for the team, both internal and external. Let’s break it down and look at some styles or traits visionary leaders commonly exhibit. If you aspire to be one, you might consider developing your competencies in these.
- Persistence. Visionaries have lust and passion. They don’t phone it in. Getting buy-in from one’s team for the vision is not easy. Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. But great minds can be just as hard to persuade.
- Conviction/inspirational. Strength of vision, optimism, determination and tenacity are table stakes for the role. Entrepreneurs always see their own vision. They drink their Kool-Aid first. If they didn’t, how would they ever get others to follow? The difficulty comes in convincing the team to follow.
- EQ. Having high Emotional Intelligence is a huge advantage. Visionaries run more on emotion than on metrics. I believe both are needed to excel. Intuition and gut feel are used more than spreadsheets and regression analysis. People skills are inherently a part of convincing others to be on board. Otherwise, it’s a lonely journey. Working well with others and leading through collaboration are necessary in order to succeed.
- Risk-taking. If your vision entails change — and by definition they almost all do — being comfortable with risk comes with the territory.
- Knowledge/experience. Being a polymath is a desirable trait. Knowing many disciplines and fields is an obvious way to see examples of cross-pollination. Being able to not just think but to see out of the box enables one to see what isn’t always apparent to others. Having an organized mind and a clear vision is imperative. This is no place for the scatterbrained.
A visionary has to be grounded, as well. I am reminded of the architect who envisions a soaring, cresting wave of a roof over his dream cathedral, but the structural engineer breaks the reality to him that you need a column, right here, in the middle of it.
Reality can be a visionary’s nemesis. ●
Steve Peplin is CEO of Talan Products