Visionary Leadership ‘Misfires and Brushfires’™

Avoiding misfiresInnovators and Entrepreneurs—can’t live with ‘em . . .

The rewards of working with a visionary leader are sometimes matched by the level of frustration. Visionary leaders, including many entrepreneurs, are typically innovative and creative.

Visionaries see their vision so clearly that it almost seems that they can hold it in their hands. Therefore, they also think it is visible to colleagues, employees and other stakeholders. Imagine their frequent surprise when they learn that the people responsible for implementation often have a hazy view of the vision, and an even hazier view of their individual contribution to making it happen.

They love ideas and concepts, tend to spend significant time ‘in their heads’, and can be absent-minded and forgetful. In some environments, this forgetfulness is understood and accepted as ‘absent-minded professor syndrome’, and people tend to make allowances for it. The professor in the movie ‘Flubber’ is a great example of the idea-obsessed, absent-minded but loveable scientist, who forgets his own wedding – more than once. However, in the business world, especially when the visionary leader is pushing for progress, forgetfulness is not always so well–received, and may even be suspect.

EXAMPLE: V – a visionary CEO/founder held a meeting with S, who was taking on increased responsibility. After they had discussed the contribution to meeting goals and details of product changes, they also discussed – briefly and in broad terms – timelines and terms for S’s compensation increase. Two weeks later, H hadn’t implemented the compensation changes. S waited a few days before he resentfully brought it up again, and was dumbfounded when V didn’t seem to remember the details of this portion of the conversation. S, who was skeptical by nature, wondered if V had reconsidered and this was his way of manipulating the situation to minimize the salary increase. Over time, S began to distrust V, and the relationship deteriorated to the extent that S became disgruntled and eventually left the firm.

Visionaries are often described as people who have high expectations – of themselves and others. They can appear to expect that others will read their minds and then execute – quickly and flawlessly; in other words, they sometimes set people up for failure. It’s the rare visionary leader who recognizes this trait in themselves – and fewer who recognize the ‘misfires and brushfires™’ it creates in their business – sometimes until it’s too late.

Since Visionaries spend so much time thinking about and planning the execution of their innovative ideas, they forget that their colleagues weren’t along for that journey – that they’ve only had a brief summary. As a psychologist friend said, “if you can’t stop the train at the station to let your employees on, you can at least slow down a bit so some of the quicker ones can jump on with you.”

Visionary entrepreneurs have a strong need for progress and development, a love of experimentation and action, and they embrace change. Their love of change and drive for progress and growth often drives high levels of productivity, as others strive to live up to their expectations. It can become wearing and demoralizing when the pressure doesn’t let up or when productivity expectations are unreasonable or not sustainable.

As leaders, visionaries rarely recognize the effect of their personal style on culture, communications and the ability to attract and retain good talent and meet company goals. They tend to underestimate the capabilities required to do the job and overestimate the capabilities of others.

When the visionary leader also has strong leadership qualities, employees may be intimidated, reluctant to question or share their beliefs [sometimes due to the power of the visionary leader’s intellect, personality or power of position. The situation is often exacerbated by colleagues who are not assertive enough to question and to get their own information needs met.]

The combination of drive, willpower, intelligence, persistence and personality of many visionaries can be interpreted by employees, investors and other stakeholders as arrogance and unwillingness to listen. More often, this combination of behavioral traits creates a blind spot that can be managed with timely, respectful feedback and coaching.

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4 Responses to Visionary Leadership ‘Misfires and Brushfires’™

  1. Greg Johnson November 21, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Interesting observation. Visionary Leaders must be Authentic Organizational Leaders. What am I saying? The are people in leadership positions that are viewed as BIG thinkers because they are always thinking out of the box. They are also viewed as always making “noise” versus making a meaningful contribution to the work environment or the future.
    Noise makers are a dime a dozen.
    A major quality of an Authentic Leader is their Visionary skills that respect people and the purpose of the organization. In respecting the people and purpose of the organization the Leader must become very familiar with the skills, culture and levels of expectations as related to the outcomes and purpose of the organization.
    See, Visionary Leaders that have very little sense or appreciation of the “How” of the organization and the people within it are just noise thinkers. Basically knowing how things are getting done at that point in time is critical because the Visionary thoughts should be building upon the foundation of performance and expectations that already exists or have a mind set to destroy everything that current exists to reach an expected outcome.
    Visionary Leaders can be an asset or a liability with or without the appreciation of the foundation of the organization.

    Thanks.

    Greg

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