Five Behaviors of a Visionary Leader

You can learn the ways of a visionary leader.

Here’s how.

I have known quite a number of remarkable futurists in my decades of consulting practice. Each took their organization to new levels of excellence and profitability. However, one stands out above all the others. I recently asked him “Do You See Blue Sky or Dark Clouds in your industry?” His business was going through a bit of a slump but he had an irrepressible sense for greater opportunities in the future.

o What made this leader stand out from his peers in the same organization/industry?

o Why was he like the optimistic child who viewed a pile of manure and started digging for the pony?

The thing about this leader is that he saw both the obstacles as well as new possibilities for the future.

What five behaviors made him such a remarkable visionary?

He had a

1.  Global Business Perspective

The problem with many a successful business is that the leadership can become internally focused. What worked in the past is assumed to be the predictor for future success. However, this leader was able to appreciate and integrate multiple socio political and global factors like the growing scarcity of water, nutrition needs of a greatly expanding and mobile world population, advances in technology like that of artificial intelligence, and the changing nature of the workforce that included millennials.  He truly saw the bigger picture.

2.  Realist/Optimist Disposition

Futurists are not clueless or careless dreamers. They can look at the facts about their organization, good and bad, and press on to new business frontiers. That makes them realists. However, what makes them stand out from the pack is that they see viable business opportunities where others see obstacles. They ask questions like, “How can we leverage the downturn in the economy to our advantage?” And their native optimism spurs them on in the face of opposition.

The motto of such a leader could well be

Pensaron que nos habían enterrado, pero no sabían que éramos semillas They thought we were buried, but they did not know we were seeds

3.  Openness to Change 

Most of us have a love/hate relationship with change. We may hear the drum beat “change or die”.  We resist the imperative to alter our ways for a multitude of reasons. Our resistance may be conscious or unconscious, based on a fear of going out of our comfort zone, spurred by a tendency to rest on the laurels of our success, or a deep longing for the “good old days”. But in the end, the visionary leader has a compelling reason to lead change. And come hell or high water, change happens.

4.  Wide Network With External Thought-Leaders

Many senior leaders confine their network to their own organization. However visionaries have the opportunity to meet with thought-leaders beyond their own company and discipline. In so doing they enjoy the fruits of cross-fertilization.  All this exposure to a wider circle enriches their capacity to innovate and expose their organization to new ideas.

5.  Deep Interest in the Arts and History

 I once taught a Humanities course in a Business Management degree program. One course assignment was for the students to visit a museum, art galley, cultural event from their ethnic group, or read a biography of some important historical figure (other than in business). The assignment was then to relate this experience to their business context. The surprise was that many of them had confined their whole life experience to the business world.

Great visionary leaders read widely, travel extensively, have broad experience in the arts, and are insatiably curious about the world around them. They then import this experience to their business experience that becomes richer as a result. All work and no play truly makes “Jack a dull boy”. The leader I work with has all this intellectual and cultural breadth and it continually informs his work experience.

I realize that this article is based the anecdotal evidence of one leader who embodied all these behaviors. However,

My Question

What behavioral markers have you observed in true visionaries?

What research (articles) do you have to support your observations?

Please share your perspective.

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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2 Responses to Five Behaviors of a Visionary Leader

  1. On your final point about interest in the Arts and History: I’m currently doing some research for a book I’m planning to write, and am asking people I’ve worked with over the years on Leadership training how often they read a book. Not necessarily a non business book, just any book. I am amazed at how many have said they rarely or never read a book. As you say, this can make Jack a dull boy (and also make publishing a book for them a bit of a leap of faith!).

    • cedricj says:

      Thanks for your comment Michael. I find that folks who read and expose themselves to the arts have vibrant associative neural networks that kick in when they approach any problem solving challenge. So yes, more power to you in your “leap of faith” as you write your new book.

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