So you say you are a visionary leader. Every organization needs a visionary. This person sees the future possibility and can begin to construct what that looks like in broad brush strokes. Without this person, an organization will go into maintenance mode, which often is a slow steady decline into mediocrity. As I’ve been coaching and mentoring leaders I’ve found some common problems with visionaries that they often overlook. As a CEO and leader of several organizations, I speak mainly from what I’ve had to learn because I’ve committed all these mistakes to my own detriment. Here are the mistakes with solutions I’ve found to hopefully lead better.
Confusing Vision and Timing
The biggest mistake I’ve committed is confusing vision with the need to execute today. I’ve walked into several organizations that are frantically trying to keep up with a high-level visionary, but they are worn thin. This visionary often is disruptive, coming up with new ideas that everyone else feels compelled to chase. You can just look into the eyes of the team and realize how desperate they are because every time they put their hands to get work down, the visionary changes the game. Nothing will burn the team and organization faster than these constant changes.
Signs: Key leader turnover & burnout and for churches people will tend to leave after 2-5 years as they experience the constant change.
Solution: With the help of executional leaders, a visionary should focus farther out in their strength. At MonkDev, most of my time is spent on ideas/vision that is minimum 3 months but usually in a 6 month to 3 year window. I’ve had to learn discipline to allow the Quarterly plan to be executed upon and realize that if I try to change that plan it is highly destructive. Only make changes under extreme circumstances as needed.
Communicating Every Idea Equally
I can only imagine the stress on my team’s face when I’d walk into meetings with ideas. Rather than being open to new ideas, I felt several were initially resistant to new ideas until I tried to win them over. There was always confusion after I left, “Is he really going to implement that new idea?” or “Were we brainstorming, was he looking for my buy-in or does he think I agreed because we discussed this?” As a visionary you probably have a high-level of ideation of the future and as such you need to know how to use this gift properly.
Signs: A sense of resistance to new ideas, eye-rolling or struggle being free brainstorming with you.
Solutions: A simple solution we’ve implemented is a numerical scale to qualify the idea. This deals with how an idea comes across. This simple scale goes like this:
1 – An idea
2 – A good idea
3 – A good idea that I’m putting details to and considering
4 – An idea I plan to do unless something prevented me
5 – An idea I’m going after no matter what
It’s amazing how something as simple as this has freed us up to discuss ideas without the high stress and resistance.
The second part of this involves the timing of communicating the idea. This deals with the when it comes across. The better you can capture and communicate ideas when it’s ‘idea time’ the better. If they come up in an execution meeting, they are distracting but if captured and discussed during your vision meetings, there is much greater focus and energy in fleshing them out.
Forgetting the Power & Perspective of your Vision
Vision is a powerful thing and with this power as a visionary leader, you have the ability to wreak havoc. This is particularly true because there are so few of us. I recall hearing, that S is the most common result on the disc profile. Here’s the intro on this profile type:
S-style people tend to be more cautious and reflective than fast-paced and outspoken. They are also warm, sincere and accepting personalities. (source)
When you call people a new vision without working through implementation with other perspectives, you are asking for trouble. I can’t recall a time I did this without causing carnage. A visionary has to recognize their willingness to face into chaos is a rare trait. You have a unique perspective on the future, but these ideas need to be brought to people who understand how to implement them slowly and steward the idea without damaging people in the change.
Signs: Ideas not taking hold/lack of adoption, people feel hurt or unsafe
Solutions: Sadly, it is the visionary who typically says, “it’s my way or the highway.” They are driven by this future they can taste/touch/feel and are often willing to pursue this at the expense of people. People need time to buy into and belong to a vision. At MonkDev we lead our leaders to build the plan on how a vision is reached. Rather than coming at people top-down, involve them in seeing this future and coming back to you with how they can help get you there.
Leading is a great responsibility and blessing. As I’ve experienced levels of struggle and success, it’s required me often to die-to-myself to better lead others by putting them first. Certainly I’m not perfect but it’s a process I’ve found great reward in. At MonkDev we want to change the world, and that is worth the cost to get better. We have a big vision, but we’ve gotten clear on how the company, each department, each leader and person contributes to this vision being achieved. Putting these solutions into place allows me to better show up in my role and serve the vision we pursue.
Note: Special thanks to James Martin and Etienne de Bruin for their patience with me!