Being A Visionary Leader
We hear again and again about how the ability to craft, communicate and engage people in a shared vision are key traits of successful leaders. Your ability to craft, communicate and engage others in a vision contributes to your leader identity. The better you are at this skill – no matter the application – the stronger the support base you will be able to build around you as you lead; and the more you will be able to shift perceptions that others have of you away from excelling solely in the doing/execution category to also excelling in the visioning arena. The subject of the critical skill of envisioning was our focus at the March gen-xyb™ High Tea session. Here are some nuggets of valuable advice that were shared during the course of the discussions, some of which I have expanded upon.
Understand expectations so you can address perceptions. Your manager and others who have a say in your career advancement may have a different view of what being visionary is than you do. Talk to them. Ask them what their expectations are in terms of you displaying visionary capabilities. You may find that you are doing the things that you believe show you are a visionary leader, but those are not the things that they are looking for.
Give yourself license to raise your hand and volunteer for high profile assignments. In order to be perceived as a visionary leader you have to lead. It’s not often that someone will come to you and offer you the plum assignment. You have to go after it for yourself. If fear of failure holds you back force yourself to be honest about what’s the worst that can happen – to which the answer will probably be nothing that bad that you shouldn’t do it, and there are plenty of ways you can mitigate risk for yourself anyway in these situations. Leaders beget leaders…so be seen leading.
Develop the ability to create a balance/mix of the right team members, and engage others in the journey. Being a visionary leader is not just about showing you have the ability to create and communicate a vision. It’s also about how you engage others in getting there. Remember – create, communicate AND ENGAGE. Part of this is working on your skills at assembling the right team together that has the mix of skills to make it happen. But then it is also about letting your vision become their vision. Make sure that everyone has a voice in what you are doing. Be willing to let go to some degree so that those you are working with can make it and embrace it as their own vision too. Educating your team is part of this but remember to also be willing to let them educate you too.
Maintain the passion even when faced with adversity. Visionary leaders need to inspire on the good days and the bad days…particularly on the bad days. You have to be resilient if you want to envision because those bad days will come and you need to have a strategy to get through them. Be open to feedback, be willing to adapt to unexpected events, have some close trusted friends and advisors that you can converse with and who can help to rejuvenate you when you need some morale boosting support. Most of all never forget what inspired you in the first place, why you developed and pursued this vision. Sometimes we get caught up in the technicalities of doing when we are executing our vision and when faced with adversity it can be tempting sometimes to give up on the task at hand. Reminding yourself what and why you were originally inspired and the purpose for the task in the first place takes you back to the roots of your vision and gets that excited feeling in the pit of your stomach to return and keep you moving forward.
Keep on the radar how important what you are doing is to the organization. Make sure you have a good understanding of the capabilities of your organization, the marketplace in which it operates and what forces are driving change in the marketplace. Then maintain visibility in the eyes of others about what you and your team are doing and how it directly relates to what happens to the organization in the context of those driving forces.
Be patient and manage expectations around timing of results. Don’t fall into the trap of getting others so vested in seeing the results of the vision ‘tomorrow’ such that they give up on the idea too quickly when it takes time to yield those results. It is important that you set expectations as to when stakeholders can expect to see results. Keeping in mind that in general people want something sooner rather than later, build the plan with which you will execute your vision in a manner that allows for early wins – even if they are small wins.
Be active and visible in relevant groups outside of your core work environment. This can take many forms. Be a participant in a trade group or industry association. Secure opportunities for yourself to be a participant in various leadership development programs. Seek opportunities to write or contribute to thought leadership materials in those communities. Don’t stick with just the obvious communities; also find those where you will stand out in your uniqueness but in which you can build the case for the unique value you bring to the table and in doing so lead in a different way.
Stop the hand-holding and instead create mechanisms that push people to become self-reliant. A few people raised examples of where team members keep coming to them to get guidance on issues or ask questions which you have already answered or explained repeatedly in the past. In a desire to not be rude you keep having those same conversations over and over again which takes time away from what you need to be doing, and even worse in some cases you end up doing the work yourself instead of the team member doing it. This further drags you down into executing/doing with less time for visioning and leading. One of the excellent strategies suggested to counter this was to create a ‘how-to guide’/Q&A guide, post it on a shared network, and then direct people to that to seek their answers. Taking this to another level, then hold your team accountable for maintaining it and updating it as a shared resource they own to share information – make it theirs!
Trust your gut more and don’t be so dominated by your reliance on data. Don’t always be painted as the analytics guru. Data is important and you need it to guide you in making good decisions, but at some point you need to also listen to, trust and follow your gut instinct. Don’t fall prey to analysis paralysis. You will never have all the data you need to make a perfect decision. There are no perfect decisions. So make a great decision and go with it and work it out from there. Sometimes what the data told you will hold true and sometimes it won’t. You’ll adapt. On a related note, don’t fall into the trap of always being the person in the meeting who is comes armed with all the data analytics and who always presents the analytics. After a while if you keep doing that over and over you are reinforcing the image of yourself as the executer/doer. Yes you are showing you are an expert when it comes to the data, but in many cases subject matter experts are called on to support/advise, NOT to lead. So even if you are closely tied into the data analytics, find opportunities sometimes to have someone else present the data. You take the chance to present the recommendations, or to present the strategy which is now going to be put into effect based on what the data insights yielded. Change people’s perceptions of you on how you are related to the data analytics.
Don’t avoid conflict. Most people dislike conflict, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it. Visionary leaders develop the skills to constructively engage in a situation where conflict has arisen, extract the positive, de-escalate the negatives, and find a common purpose or outcome with which to get the parties involved joined together in a united front and moving forward. Yes, sometimes there are casualties in the conflict, but a visionary leader learns how to make the best of that situation, own it, and move on. Find someone who you know is really good at this and watch them in action to learn how they deal with it. Know that you don’t have to say ‘I’m sorry’ when things don’t work out in someone’s favor. You can say ‘I am sorry you feel that way’ so that you are acknowledging the place they are in right now but still be comfortable with owning where you stand on the outcome/resolution that was reached.
I am very passionate about this subject of being a visionary leader, of balancing your technical expertise and reputation for being that incredible person who gets stuff done with being someone who is known for their visionary leadership. This is particularly important for women who are often perceived to not be as effective in this envisioning dimension. You must focus on actively developing and displaying those incredible envisioning skills and being that amazing visionary leader that we all know you are. I look forward to being able to share even more insights on this topic with you when my book ‘Ready, Set…RISK!’ comes out in May. I devoted an entire chapter to this topic. Right now though you have these wonderful nuggets that we discussed last week and they will serve you extremely well. What other suggestions do you have that you would like to share? Please post a comment with your suggestions on being a visionary leader.