Visionaries: Capitalizing on Strengths, Shoring Up Weak Spots

We all tend to fit one of seven types of change leader, each of which indicates a different mix of leading with Head, Heart, or Hands. The second change leader type is the Visionary, the primarily Head-focused leader.

Change leaders who are Visionaries provide an invaluable service to their organizations: they prepare everyone to meet the challenges of an increasingly uncertain future. A quote from futurist Joel Barker sums up the critical role of Visionaries well: “No one will thank you for taking care of the present if you have neglected the future.” Tony Mayo, a lecturer on organizational behavior at Harvard, has this to say: “The ability to visualize and articulate a possible future state for an organization or company has always been a vital component of successful leadership. In fact, when initially describing someone as a ‘great business leader,’ the knee-jerk reaction is often to cite something about his or her strategic ability or vision.”

However, balancing vision and execution is a Visionary’s first key challenge. Mayo continues: “Just as important, [a successful leader must] possess the ability to oversee that vision’s implementation.” Visionaries must bring Heart and Hands into the equation, sharing their vision with others and laying out a path to the vision that incorporates many visible milestones along the way.

Remembering to bring others along is another of the Visionary’s key challenges. In The Leadership Challenge, authors Kouzes and Posner list five Leadership Principles, and the first is “Inspire a Shared Vision.” Visionary leaders can be inspirational, but they need to remember to inspire others as much as they get inspired themselves—the admonition is for a shared vision, after all.

You can find self-assessment questions and stories of real-life Visionaries in my book, Change Intelligence.