What does it take to be a visionary leader? What are the qualities that set these individuals apart from the rest?
People often use the word “visionary” to describe leaders who are able to see beyond what is currently possible and inspire others to pursue ambitious goals. While there is no one-size-fits-all definition of a visionary leader, certain qualities are common among them.
According to experts, the following are qualities of a visionary leader.
Retired International Business Consultant | Author, “BEAT the COMPETITION! How to transform yourself and your business“
There are six steps to becoming a visionary leader
I had a good track record as a visionary leader and then used my principles to help other companies, large and small, all over the world become leaders in their respective sectors.
In this note, I set out these principles and show how anyone can achieve the same.
Many years ago, when I was appointed to run a series of US business operations in Europe, I faced the problem of becoming a good leader. And after a few false starts, I gradually learned the best way of doing it. The hard way. Through practical experience.
I don’t go in much for intellectual debates on whether a strategy is more important than culture. That gets you nowhere. But I’ll show you how to harness both of these great attributes to help you and your business become much more capable and competitive.
There are six steps in this journey.
Step 1. Remember, you’re leading people, not just a company or department
When you’re newly appointed to run a business operation, you need to set out your strategy going forward. And the only way you’re going to realize that strategy is by leading your people by convincing and inspiring them that your vision is achievable.
Related: How to Inspire Others (5 Ways to Inspire the People Around You)
Your people are usually the most difficult element of your strategy to get right. I learned early that I should always strive to have the highest caliber of people in my group.
When hiring at any level, I’d always hire the best with the right personal and technical skills.
But what about the people already in the group? Those that you inherit in your new role?
I also learned that most of these people were grossly undervalued. They often had lots of skills and capabilities that were never even recognized and far less used to the benefit of the group or the company.
This fact gives you a great opportunity to become an inspirational leader. Let me tell you how.
Step 2: Become an inspirational leader
Inspirational leaders consistently generate trust and raise the self-esteem of their staff. They spend at least an hour a day on the shop floor or in office areas talking positively with their people. They also know their names without having to refer to name tags.
Typically, the inspirational leader will subtly probe to uncover the USPs of their staff.
I use the term USP (unique selling point) in this context to refer to unique aspects of the individual’s off-work experience that the leader can develop and utilize productively for the benefit of both the individual and the business.
Here are some examples from my personal experience.
- A young man in the warehouse emerged as the Captain of his local football team.
- A young girl in the planning department, quiet and conscientious, who we discovered had been the Captain of her University College Rowing Club.
- A young machine operator doing a good job, who turned out to have previously been a check-out operator at a large retail store. In that job, he was trusted to close down the tills each evening and transfer the cash to the office.
- Another machine operator overcame a personal fear of heights by doing a solo skydive for a charity that was important to her family.
In all of these cases and many more, we uncovered their unique personal assets — their USPs — which we then used to unlock the constraints on their personal growth and develop them for their benefit as well as for the business as a whole.
As a result, people then have a sense of pride in working for the company. And that’s the ultimate aim of this highly personal leadership approach.
To have people proud to work for the group is the greatest endorsement a leader can have. He can’t tell people to be proud of their job. They only feel proud if everything else is right. It’s the ultimate endorsement of leadership.
So follow these points to develop a dynamic, enthusiastic culture and have your people proud to work for you as an inspirational leader.
Step 3: Where are you going to lead them? Why not to world-class?
It’s a tough, highly competitive world out there, both for individuals and businesses. To be really successful, you’ve got to improve ahead of your competition and stay there. But improve what?
Related: 39 Habits of Successful People (the Ultimate List)
I wrestled with this problem when I started. And then discovered what really determined my success against my competitors was the extent to which I consistently added value in everything I did.
I found that typically between 50% and 80% of my total time at work was spent not adding value. But that was the way everyone worked. That was normal.
If I could eliminate all this non-value-adding activity, then I could become much more productive than everyone else and leap ahead. Once I realized this, I began to really develop the right leadership objectives and solutions. Let me explain how I did it.
Everything you do in business should be part of a defined process for a customer, external or internal.
In a manufacturing process, you only add value when you change the raw material you receive closer to what your customer is paying for.
In a non-manufacturing process, such as an administrative or service process, you only add value when you change the raw information you receive closer to what your customer, whether internal or external, really wants.
Nothing else you do adds value.
So I’d now figured out that adding value was the key. And I wanted to get my operations up to world-class. How could I combine these to give me what I wanted?
I gradually developed a grid of world-class performance levels covering three key operational parameters using value-adding as the basis. These were Responsiveness, Productivity, and Right First Time.
I called this grid the Path to Excellence, and I reproduced part of it here.
- Responsiveness is the ratio of the overall time to complete any process to the actual value-adding time involved in that process.
- Productivity is the proportion of the total time that your assets (whether people or equipment) are used productively to add value.
- Right First Time is the proportion of the total items or transactions that start a process and finish it right the first time with no defects or rework.
I ensured that ‘Excellence’ represented world-class standards of performance for any operational process. I could then assess my performance against these standards.
I discovered to my horror that the performance of my processes sat somewhere left of center on this grid (see red line). But what it also highlighted was what I had to do to reach the level of ‘Excellence.’
And that was the breakthrough for me in planning and developing my leadership strategy.
Once I achieved that ‘Excellence’ level on all three of these parameters (see green line), my businesses transformed from being okay to becoming the best in their sector.
And to me, that’s what the right leadership strategy and tactics should achieve.
Since then, as a consultant, I’ve applied this approach to all my clients in many different sectors with huge success. And you can do that too, in your world.
Step 4: How do you reach these world-class standards?
Really by focusing on these three parameters — Responsiveness, Productivity, and Right First Time.
Analyze each of your key processes, whether they’re manufacturing, administrative or service processes, and eliminate the many steps that do not add value.
As a result, your processes complete much more quickly and give a more responsive and superior service to customers that can potentially generate more revenues.
Ensure the step that sets the pace for your process operates at its most effective. You then get the maximum volume through that step — and therefore through the whole process — which gives you maximum productivity, lowers costs, and improves profits.
Right First Time
Ensure all your processes operate right the first time. Apply root cause analyses to ensure minimum rework, which then helps you achieve the two other main objectives.
It takes time and effort to get there. But it’s not rocket science. I can assure you that once you’re operating your processes at the ‘Excellence’ level, the operational, financial, and business benefits are amazing. It will transform your life and your company’s competitive position.
That’s my basis for great leadership qualities. That’s how to achieve world-class levels of performance. That’s what you really need to aim for in this highly competitive world.
Step 5: Mitigate the risks — and avoid the ‘What about Malta?’ syndrome
Over the years, I’ve worked in both the US and Europe. And when it comes to risk mitigation, I much prefer the US approach. Let me explain why.
Imagine that you’ve worked out your strategy for improvement and the tactics for achieving it. To ensure success, you now need to check that the main risks are covered.
In the US, the approach is to look at the number one risk and assess what needs to be done to mitigate that risk. Then look at the number two risk and do the same with that. Then perhaps look at the number three risk as well.
Usually, these first three risks take care of around 80% or more of the total risk.
Our approach in the US was then to say that we’ve got good people, and we trust them to deal with other minor risks within our framework guidelines. So let’s get started now.
On the other hand, in Europe, particularly central Europe, the approach is a bit different. They go through the first three risks just as in the above US scenario.
But they then go on to look at the fourth biggest risk, the fifth and the sixth, and so on. They analyze things to the ultimate to make sure they haven’t missed anything.
I dubbed that European approach the ‘What about Malta?’ syndrome.
This arose when we were re-engineering a European product portfolio. More than 80% of European business was covered by the big five — Germany, the UK, France, Spain, and Italy.
By assessing the risks in these countries, we covered the vast majority of project risks.
However, that wasn’t enough for the central Europeans on the panel. They wanted to go on and work out the risks in the smaller European countries as well. Until we got the call, ‘What about Malta?’
Business on the relevant products in Malta was 0.3% of the total, but the person involved stated that even though it was small in global terms, they were class-A products in Malta. We should really know how we were going to deal with them there.
It was frankly ridiculous and was the trigger to stop the discussion finally.
We agreed that our people were excellent and could be relied upon to make the right decisions within the framework guidelines. Any exceptions would be covered by weekly or monthly steering group meetings. So, let’s get on with it now.
The difference between the two approaches for me is very significant. In my view, it contributes to the greater success of the US in driving forward and achieving new ideas more quickly.
So, as you approach the problem of mitigating risks in your projects, make sure you adopt the US approach rather than the European. And absolutely make sure you avoid the ‘What about Malta?’ syndrome.
Step 6: Make sure you finish the job — and achieve the objectives
With your weekly or monthly steering group meetings and progress updates, make sure that you openly support your people and that they actually deliver the objectives in the agreed timescales.
Remember that delegation does not mean abdication. You have to stay on top of the project team and make sure that you quickly resolve any difficulties that may arise.
I hope you find all of the above practical advice helps you to develop the qualities of a visionary leader that will really make a huge difference to you and to your people and your business. Enjoy your success.
Anna Angelova, MBA, CPC
Career and Leadership Coach, Leficomp
Visionary leaders have all the qualities of great leaders
We are all leaders in life and at work. However, most of us lead by default and not by design.
Only the great ones lead by design and understanding all the responsibilities that come with being a leader. The top of the top, the visionary leaders, have one additional quality that makes them outstanding.
Attributes of great leaders
Before revealing what makes a visionary leader, let’s review the attributes of great leaders. Many of these are not surprising because, on one level or another, we all sense when we see a great leader.
Great leaders are:
They are the calm center everyone gathers around. Everyone feels safe around them and knows that once the leader is there, everything will be okay.
Confidence is the quality we admire the most in leaders because many of us lack it. We are looking for people who know what they are talking about, and we want them to tell us what to do.
Confidence has grown into a mental shortcut. It signifies success and winners. It also shows you are loved and accepted by yourself and by others. Think about it. Would you follow someone who doesn’t have confidence in their own views and in themselves? Of course not.
Confidence is one of the key qualities of any leader. It’s exhibited by great leaders, visionary leaders, and also totalitarian ones.
An example for all
They set the pace. They take action, and others follow.
As social species, we have learned and adapted to mimic the tribe, especially the leaders of the tribe. They are the ones who signal how we should behave. Great and visionary leaders know this. They are aware that they are always on stage and under the limelight, and they use it to set an example.
Great leaders provide the vision and hope we need to stand for and work towards. They move us to action.
Think of Steve Jobs and how we inspired everyone at Apple. His passion and mission were on fire in every speech he gave. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired a nation similar to Mahatma Gandhi.
The ability to light a fire in people’s hearts and souls is one of the essential qualities of great and visionary leaders. You are not a leader if you don’t have people following you. And inspiration is how you get people to act.
Great leaders connect with us on a human level and by being vulnerable. They are the perfect combination of “just like us” and “someone we want to be when we grow up.”
We can relate to them because of their weaknesses. Yet, we feel inspired by them because of their strengths.
Related: 80+ Leadership Weaknesses and How to Fix Them
They know who they are and where they are going while remembering where they came from. And this interesting balance between weaknesses and strengths, fears and achievements, is what makes them so captivating.
Their authenticity of knowing and accepting of who they are increases their confidence. The knowledge of where they are going is shown in their passion and determination.
Related: Why Is Passion Important for Success in Life?
It’s no wonder we look for and follow people who exhibit all these qualities.
Similarly to authenticity, being captivating is also at the intersection of “this person is someone just like me” and “this person is who I want to be.” It’s a quality that stems from a strong character.
And great leaders have it in abundance. They are strong, heroic, and successful. They are also weak, afraid, and a failure. This allows them to attract and captivate others.
We care about people first and their story or mission second. Once we relate to a person, we can empathize and start caring. It doesn’t matter whether the character is a person in real life or in a book.
Unless we connect with them on a human level, unless they attract and captivate us through their struggles and through overcoming these struggles, we don’t care about them and the story.
It’s easy to notice the interplay between the great leaders in human history.
Try to notice it with the leaders in your company or community. Notice how you connect with them when you hear about their struggles and fears. See how this makes them more captivating.
Great leaders know how to understand and manage emotions in themselves and others.
While emotional intelligence was not a hot topic at the beginning of the 20th century, managing emotions was and still is an essential quality of a great leader.
Remember how great leaders are the calm in the center of the storm? Do you think they are not afraid during a storm? Of course, they are. But they know how to manage their own emotions.
Great leaders are also adept at reading and managing the emotions of others around them. They are able to sense when people need to be motivated or inspired, heard or calmed down.
People of integrity
Great leaders do the right thing even when no one is watching and just because this is the right thing. They truly believe in and live their mission and vision.
It’s not to say that they are flawless. They have their weaknesses. Yet, when it comes to the things that matter, great leaders have integrity. They walk the talk. They are the ones in the form, on the ground, doing the work when it’s required.
You’ve probably heard this quote from Mother Theresa: “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I would never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”
Great leaders share the same message with both their words and their actions (and inactions).
Great leaders are entirely comfortable in their own skin, acknowledge their own imperfections, seek input, admit when they are wrong, and put others first. In short, they are humble.
No one is ever self-made. We are social beings, and our success is possible because of everyone around us.
Great leaders know this and acknowledge it. They shine the light on others and empower them to achieve their own greatness.
Great leaders know what their mission is and give attention to their vision and priorities only. They know that other leaders are focusing on the rest of the problems the world is facing.
Steve Jobs is quoted saying that he is proud of the things Apple said “No” to.
Our world faces many challenges and has many opportunities. All great leaders focus on one mission — their mission, the reason they are here on Earth.
And this is how we have leaders who are improving poverty, others who are focused on social injustice, yet others whose mission is education for all… The list can go on forever.
The main point is that one person can’t solve everything. All great leaders have a mission they follow and focus on 100%. Everything else will be taken care of by other passionate leaders.
Great leaders are lifelong learners and work harder and smarter to achieve their mission. There is this saying that leaders are readers. They are constantly growing and helping others to grow as well.
One of the benefits of reading is that it develops empathy. It helps us connect with other people and see different points of view.
A great leader is growth-minded, knowing that there is always room for improvement. A great leader is also open-minded and willing to hear and consider various points of view.
As a consequence of this, many great leaders in business are also able to hold two opposable ideas in mind at the same time and come up with a solution that’s better than either of the initial options.
In other words, they are not fans of “either-or” scenarios. They look for “and.” How can we have the cake and eat it too?
Great leaders are consistent. Their behaviors and character show in everything they do. Their words align with their actions. You will not hear them say one thing and then do something else.
The consistency shown by great leaders stems from their character, authenticity, integrity, and mission they have.
And this consistency is another quality that attracts us to these leaders because we know what to expect from them and feel safe when they are leading us.
Committed to excellence
Last but not least, great leaders strive to be and do the best in their field. They look for ways to make things better and help others.
If these are the qualities of great leaders, what makes a visionary leader?
Visionary leaders have all the qualities of great leaders:
- They are confident and inspire us toward a mission.
- They are simultaneously growth-minded and consistent.
- They are authentic, captivating, and emotionally intelligent.
- They lead by example and with integrity and humility.
- They are committed to and focused on their mission.
The one additional thing that makes a leader not only great but also visionary is that they build other leaders. They create the next generations of visionary leaders who will continue the mission.
Anyone can be a great leader. We have many examples of great leaders in human history (and very few at the moment, unfortunately).
But few can be described as visionary. It takes a different level of confidence and humility to be able to raise the next generation of visionary leaders, to create level 5 leaders, as John Maxwell calls them.
By creating other visionary leaders, a visionary leader ensures that the vision and mission will keep on being rekindled by the next generations.
It also means that the visionary leader creates the leader who will take over to continue the mission. This is why there are so few visionary leaders and perpetual missions.
Most people are more concerned with their own success than with the vision or mission they are meant to follow.
Last thing to know about visionary leaders
Our world needs great leaders more than ever. Great leaders will be able to solve every single problem we face today. Our world needs visionary leaders as well. So all worthy missions can continue for generations to come.
Our world needs you to step up and be a leader by design. Now that you know the qualities of great leaders and what quality makes a visionary leader, it’s your turn.
You are a leader by default or by design. It’s time to choose to be a leader by design and fire up your mission. Which attribute will you start your journey with?
Owner, Millennial Zen Coaching
Do you have what it takes to be a great leader in your life and business? Many people aspire to lead, but few have the qualities necessary to make it happen.
To be a successful leader, you need determination, passion, charisma, and more. Please keep reading to find out what it takes to be the best leader possible. You may be surprised at all that is involved in this vital role.
Related: How to Be More Charismatic (40+ Effective Ways)
It’s about taking charge of your life and making things happen
Being a leader is not about holding a particular title or position within an organization. Instead, it is about taking charge of your life and making things happen.
Authentic leadership requires innovation, creativity, and a willingness to take risks. It also means being antifragile — growing more assertive in adversity rather than becoming weaker.
Ultimately, leadership is all about having a sense of purpose and using your abilities to effect positive change in the world. Whether leading a team or simply working towards your goals, authentic leadership requires dedication, passion, and vision.
So don’t wait for someone else to take charge — seize the opportunity and become a true leader yourself!
Hard work, dedication, and a willingness to learn and grow
Successful leaders are not born; they are made through years of hard work, dedication, and a willingness to learn and grow.
This process requires an innovative approach that pushes beyond the status quo, embracing constant change and growth as opportunities for personal development.
Moreover, leaders need to be antifragile — that is, they must be able to thrive in the face of adversity and uncertainty. Whether facing unexpected challenges or uncertain market conditions, true leaders have a clear sense of purpose and a strong belief in the value of their work.
With these qualities in mind, it becomes clear that anyone has the potential to become a leader if they are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to get there.
And with hard work and determination, there are no limits on what we as individuals can achieve through leadership.
Inspire others to achieve great things and empower them to be their best selves
A leader inspires others to achieve great things through their example and ability to empower others.
By setting a solid model, leaders instill a sense of innovation and purpose in those around them, encouraging them to push boundaries and reach new heights.
Additionally, by cultivating an atmosphere of empowerment, leaders help individuals to become more antifragile — that is, better able to thrive in the face of adversity.
Whether motivating others through collaboration or challenging conventions through risk-taking, true leaders know how to unlock the potential in others and enable them to be their best selves.
Leaders inspire us all to greatness with such qualities at the heart of their leadership style.
Ability to connect with others and build relationships of trust
A leader’s success hinges on building strong relationships with those around them.
Related: Building Strong Work Relationships
Whether working with colleagues, grappling with tough decisions, or trying to motivate a team, our success as individuals often depends on our ability to engage with others and create trust connections.
This requires being open, approachable, and receptive to feedback from others. It also calls for questioning the status quo and looking for innovative ways to solve problems.
Related: 25+ Good Examples of Problem Solving in the Workplace
Above all, it requires a sense of purpose in our work and how we lead others.
With these qualities at the core of our leadership style, we can become antifragile leaders who thrive in uncertainty and change.
Whether we’re leading a small group or an entire organization, our success will depend on our ability to connect with people and build meaningful relationships that help fuel innovation and growth from within.
Never giving up, even when it gets tough
Successful leaders require dedication, innovation, and the ability to persevere in adversity.
Whether you are leading a team at work or advancing a project at home, there will inevitably be times when things don’t go as planned and obstacles stand in your way.
In those moments, keeping a clear sense of purpose and never giving up is essential.
This requires having confidence in your abilities and an unwavering belief that you can overcome whatever challenges come your way.
By staying focused on your goals and refusing to let setbacks stop you from pursuing your dreams, you become antifragile — able to withstand failure and grow stronger.
If you want to be a truly great leader, remember that success is not just about doing the right things but also having the strength, resilience, and persistence to keep going no matter what life throws your way.
How to be an effective leader in your personal and professional life
Being a leader requires many skills and qualities, from the ability to encourage innovation and creativity to the determination to weather any challenge or setback.
But perhaps one of the most essential traits of an effective leader is a clear sense of purpose.
Whether you are leading a large team or making decisions in your personal life, having a strong sense of purpose helps ground you and keeps you focused on what matters most.
This can take many forms, from a deep dedication to your values and beliefs to a strong commitment to achieving specific goals.
Another critical component of effective leadership is resilience and antifragility, which means adapting and thriving in inherently unpredictable or unstable situations.
This means thinking critically about possible challenges before they arise and developing strategies to help you succeed in even the most demanding conditions.
Above all, influential leaders must think creatively and embrace innovation as the cornerstone of success in their professional and personal lives.
Whether coming up with new ideas for problem-solving or building relationships with others based on openness and trust, innovation is essential for leaders who want to impact today and the future.
Medical Research Scientist
There are seven important qualities of a visionary leader
What is visionary leadership?
Visionary leadership is the ability to see the future and inspire others to follow a shared vision. It is about creating a vision for the future that engages and inspires people and then working together to make that vision a reality.
Visionary leaders can dream big and inspire others to do the same. They can create a sense of purpose and inspire people to work together towards a common goal.
A visionary leader in business
One example of visionary leadership in the world of business is Steve Jobs, the co-founder and former CEO of Apple Inc.
Jobs was known for his innovative and forward-thinking ideas, which helped to make Apple one of the most successful companies in the world. He was also known for his ability to inspire others to share his vision and work together to achieve it.
A visionary leader in philanthropy
Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank, is a visionary leader in the world of philanthropy.
He recognized that small loans could help the poorest of the poor to become self-sufficient, and he devoted his life to helping them escape poverty.
Through the Grameen Bank, Yunus has helped millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty, and he has shown that it is possible to create a world without poverty.
A visionary leader in global politics
Nelson Mandela is an example of visionary leadership in the world of global politics. After spending 27 years in prison, he was elected the first black president of South Africa, and his term was marked by reconciliation and racial integration.
He also worked tirelessly to promote human rights around the world.
The seven most important qualities of a visionary leader:
They have a clear vision for the future of the organization they lead and can communicate it in an inspirational way
Visionary leaders have a clear vision for the future of the organization they lead and are inspirational in casting the visions. They can see beyond the current state of the organization and into what the future could look like.
This ability to see the potential for growth and innovation is what sets apart a visionary leader from others.
They can communicate their vision in an inspiring way, which helps to rally the team around them and work towards achieving the common goal.
A visionary leader can create a collaborative team environment where everyone is working towards a common goal, which ultimately leads to success for the organization.
They gather around them the necessary talent to fulfill the grand objective
Visionary leaders know that to achieve the grand objective, they need to gather around them the best talent possible. They inspire their team and give them a sense of purpose, making them want to work together towards a common goal.
The leader establishes trust and credibility, which allows for an open flow of communication and creativity. By empowering their team and creating an environment of collaboration, the leader can bring out the best in each individual and fulfill the grand objective.
They inspire others to buy into their vision and work collaboratively towards a common goal
By communicating their vision in an inspirational way, they can get their team on board and focused on the same objective.
They do this by creating a positive and energizing environment where everyone is working towards a common goal, and this can result in great things for the organization.
By inspiring others to believe in the vision, the leader can create a sense of purpose and unity that will help get the team through difficult challenges and toward the ultimate goal.
They think strategically and plan for long-term success
Visionary leaders can see the big picture and have a clear vision for the future of their organization. They can think ahead and plan for potential obstacles that may get in the way of achieving their vision.
Importantly, they are adaptable and change course when necessary to ensure that their organization is successful in the long run.
They see beyond the status quo and identify new opportunities and potential threats
Visionary leaders can look at the organization they lead and see not only what it is today but what it could be in the future. This ability to see potential allows them to chart a course for the organization that takes it in a new and exciting direction.
They are also good at identifying potential threats to the organization’s success and taking steps to mitigate them. This ability to think ahead ensures that the organization remains strong and successful in the face of changing conditions.
They dare to take risks and make bold decisions to achieve their vision
A visionary leader understands the importance of taking risks to achieve their vision. They know that to make a big impact, they have to be willing to take some chances.
This may mean making bold decisions or embracing change even when it’s uncomfortable. However, a visionary leader also knows how to balance risk with caution.
They understand that not every decision is a risk and that not every change is worth embracing. They use their judgment to determine when it is necessary to take a chance and when it is better to play it safe.
Ultimately, a visionary leader’s goal is to see their vision through to fruition. And they know that to do this, they must be willing to take risks and make bold decisions along the way.
They are decisive, proactive, and inspirational leaders who inspire others to reach great heights
Visionary leaders bring out the best in their workers by creating a clear vision for the future and providing inspiration to achieve it. They establish a collaborative team environment where everyone feels invested in the success of the organization.
The leader sets the tone by example, working hard and exhibiting a passion for the work. Employees are encouraged to take risks and contribute new ideas.
The leader recognizes and rewards excellence, fostering a culture of innovation and creativity.
In short, visionary leaders bring out the best in their workers by providing a clear path to the future, fostering collaboration and innovation, and recognizing excellence.
Executive and Leadership Coach | Podcast Host, The Naked Leadership | Founder and Managing Partner, Take New Ground
We are all leaders creating our own vision for our lives. Some of us take this responsibility more seriously than others.
Then there are those who are captured by a vision or are captured by being the person with a vision that generates a new future for themselves and others. We call these people visionary leaders.
There are several known patterns of perspective and action that can be traced and mimicked if you want to become a more visionary leader.
Their reference point is what could or should be happening
The world has always risen and fallen on the tongues of leaders.
Those that have the courage and capacity to speak something into existence. Those that are willing to dream and convicted stand for something new despite the little evidence at the moment.
Their reference is what’s possible, not what’s predictable philosopher Dan Tocchini says, “A man with a vision cannot be held hostage by circumstance.” Visionary leaders reject the mediocrity that others are happy to settle for.
Visionary leaders see what’s worth struggling for
The human brain is wired to see trouble and wants to avoid it. Visionary leaders expect pain along their journey and meet threats accompanying that pain with curiosity rather than angst and avoidance.
They aren’t Pollyanna. They speak to the pain in their current reality because they know that being real about it is the only way to connect with their team and create space for new possibilities.
A leader who struggles to get real about pain risks followership as their team will experience them as out of touch.
They know that the path to the future is through their team
It is the connection over shared vision, current pain, and the partnership around new possibilities that catalyzes teams to action.
Visionary leaders know that inspiration is not performative. Being clear and making bold requests to generate what’s wanted and needed is what makes the difference.
People are honored to get to pursue something meaningful. It’s the only thing that generates vitality in the first place. Making a difference with and for humanity has always been the most worthy cause.
Visionary leaders are clear about these truths:
- Change is inevitable.
- The future is up for grabs.
- People are always seeking connection.
“Ambition without humanity is despair.” – Adrian Koehler
With the best of intentions and no shortage of ambition, organizations will accept the call to action to adapt to a shifting landscape.
However, doing so without an explicit, intentional connection to our humanity— pain, fear, and hope for the future— almost always leaves leaders and their teams at a loss.
CEO and Founder, Capri Temporary Housing
Leadership is possibly one of the most valuable aspects of any business you could imagine. The leadership of a company will make or break it ultimately.
A truly visionary leader has the potential to propel their organization into hyper-growth mode and define the future, so what are the characteristics of a truly visionary leader?
Ability to visualize a better future
An important aspect for a visionary leader to have is the ability actually to visualize a better future. If you cannot idealize it and determine exactly what it looks like for yourself, you will never be able to communicate that vision to others.
Take time to sit down and think through your vision. Give it concrete words and actual pictures of what it will look like. If you want a globally recognized movement, write that down.
If you want to change your industry, write down how you want to change it and where you see the industry when you’ve changed it. Without crystal clear idealization, you won’t be able to lead effectively to the goals you want to achieve.
Ability to communicate effectively and efficiently
No leader, no matter how visionary, can truly be considered a leader if they don’t have a team of people following them.
In order to have a team of people following you, you must be able to communicate effectively, efficiently, and entirely with your team.
One of the most important aspects of leading is to remember that your people will only go as far as they know they need to go. In order to be a truly visionary leader, you must be able to communicate your vision.
Take time to understand how your team communicates and learns and how you can communicate your vision to them. Make sure you do it again and again because human beings tend to forget things.
From a psychological standpoint, human beings need to see or be reminded of something 7-10 times to remember it long-term, so keep that in mind if they don’t get it the first time: you just have to keep reminding them.
Keep that vision in front of them and communicate it clearly. It is only once you communicate your vision that you will be able to get your team to execute it.
Leadership, not management
People don’t like to be managed, they like to be led.
If you see yourself as a manager rather than a leader, you will end up with a team of people who run tasks and do not take the initiative; they will become task-oriented and not goal-oriented, and it will be that much harder to lead them into a new future.
Look at them as your team. They are people working with, not for you, who are helping bring your vision into reality. Like the sailors on a ship working with the captain to chart the right course through a storm, they are the ones who bring your vision to life.
If you see them as a team, you’ll understand the importance of investing in them and providing them with the supplies, training, and motivation they need to bring your vision into existence.
This kind of leadership style encourages initiative and promotes growth in every area of the company, whereas a management style of leadership reduces these valuable visionaries to simple worker-bees who can’t think for themselves.
Real Estate Investor, Momentum Property Solutions
A visionary leader is often the founder of a company. They are the go-getters that develop an idea and continue grinding until it works. For that reason, they are used to wearing a lot of hats.
However, they operate best when they are harnessing their true talents, which are coming up with new and innovative ideas and inspiring people to make them happen.
A visionary leader thrives when they can focus on the big picture. They have the desire and the guts to tackle big problems and do things that no one has ever done before.
What are the main qualities of a visionary leader?
Abundance of ideas
One of the main qualities of a visionary leader is the abundance of ideas. They are constantly thinking of ways to improve and keep pushing forward. However, this abundance of ideas must be tempered by an integrator, or the company will suffer from “shiny object syndrome.”
Even so, new and creative ideas are fundamental to the growth of a business, and a visionary is a powerhouse for them.
Able to communicate their vision to their team, which inspires them
A visionary leader is able to communicate their vision to their team in a way that inspires them to get behind it wholeheartedly. Their ability to do this is what enables them to get the best out of people and accomplish big goals.
Manage big relationships and deals
A visionary leader is typically the face of a company, so they are the ones interfacing with important customers, clients, and partners on a regular basis.
They are comfortable developing strategic relationships and closing big deals.
They are optimistic
A visionary leader believes in the mission of the company and wholeheartedly feels that they will succeed.
This confidence is what led them to be an entrepreneur in the first place and is what fuels them when working on new business ventures.
What are some challenges of a visionary leader?
Although a visionary leader is paramount to the success of a company, they don’t come without their flaws.
Short attention span
Because they are constantly thinking about ways to improve, a visionary leader is used to bouncing back and forth between thoughts and not dwelling on one for too long.
They don’t have the patience for details, which is why they need an integrator on their team to take their good ideas and execute them.
Hard time training people
Many visionary leaders are used to doing everything in their business, and they often have a hard time letting go of the reigns for someone else to take over a role.
Although they are great at inspiring people, they have a hard time training them on the technical tasks of a specific task.
The confidence of a visionary leader often results in them biting off more than they can chew. This might mean committing to an unrealistic deadline or going after business that they are not quite ready for.
Once again, this is where an integrator must harness the power of the visionary while keeping them in check with reality.
CEO and Managing Partner, Greater Property Group
Team engagement, Sustainable Energy, and Achievable destination
Visionary leadership entails having the insight, zeal, and willpower to guide and lead people or a team to a fulfilled destination point. A leader without vision is like a blind shepherd in charge of a flock of sheep.
The reality of a leader without vision is doom. They are either going nowhere or end up leading both themself and the entire group that is attached to them to a great fall.
When we take a deep dive into the working of a visionary leader, we will discover the three elements that shape a visionary leader.
These elements are Team engagement, Sustainable Energy, and Achievable destination. These three elements must work hand in hand.
Sustainable Energy and an Achievable destination without Team engagement will lead to “loneliness.” Both the leader and the team become lonely because there is no consolidation.
Sustainable Energy and Team Engagement without an Achievable destination will mean “no direction” because there is no clear destination.
An Achievable destination and Team Engagement without Sustainable Energy will mean a “lack of energy” to get there because there is nothing to drive the entire team forward.
When a leader has all of these three elements, only then can we say They are a visionary leader.
The qualities of a visionary leader are born out of the three elements in agreement with each other. They are:
A visionary leader must be able to communicate their ideas with the team and guide them towards accomplishments by maintaining good communication.
Communication oils the entire team’s engine. It must not be lacking as it can make the team lose interest in carrying on.
A visionary leader must be clear and detailed in their objectives. They must be able to manage their time well. When a leader is organized, the team can confidently give them their trust.
This is because the team is able to see the achievable destination through him.
A visionary leader must be responsible. They must be in charge and never relinquish control. They must be in charge of the entire Team.
A visionary leader must know and understand the roles their position must play to achieve fulfillment or success.
A visionary leader must be insightful. They must not just see with their naked eyes alone. They must be imaginative and inventive. Look within yourself and birth an idea that can bring transformation.
A visionary leader must be consistent. Rome was not built in a day. Consistent efforts are needed to achieve their clear objectives.
Founder, Bingo Card Creator
While it may be tempting to ascribe the term “visionary leader” to individuals like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, visionary leadership need not always be noisy and ostentatious.
It may be developed at all levels of leadership, from team leader to CEO.
By tempering creativity, experimentation, and charisma with these grounded attributes and techniques, you may harness your visionary leadership style and confidently assume the role of a visionary leader.
These characteristics define a visionary leader:
Visionary executives view the world in a unique way
In times of transition or even firm decline, visionary leaders may frequently see potential and opportunity that no one else does. They perceive what does not exist or what does not yet exist.
A visionary leadership style welcomes uncertainty as a blank canvas for invention, experimentation, and the exploration of novel opportunities.
To cast a bigger vision for a team organization, it is frequently necessary to be able to view the situation in a new light, even when there appears to be no light at all, whether it be an organizational reorganization or declining product sales.
Visionary leaders assist others in seeing the future
For teams working in the middle of a transition or struggling to comprehend their position within the greater goal, it can be difficult to perceive the big picture.
Visionary leaders must then become unifiers of people, bringing teams and entire companies together and guiding them in the same direction.
This may occur in a variety of contexts, with a visionary leadership style utilizing the art of storytelling or symbolism to construct a compelling image that motivates others toward the future objective.
Visionary leaders make the dream a reality
Innovative ideas and ambitious visions are without value if they are not accompanied by action.
The flare and charm frequently associated with visionary leadership must be tempered with discipline, concentration, and a clearly defined path of action.
A visionary leader ensures that the vision is realized by articulating specific objectives, establishing a strategic plan for attaining those objectives, and educating and enabling each member to implement the plan at the organizational, team, and individual levels.
Managing Director, Bubblegum Casting – Hunter Talent
A visionary leader is a conscious leader
Conscious leadership has often been described as the “we” approach and nowhere does it manifest more significantly than in a leader’s relationship with their direct reports.
Conscious leadership is characterized by empathy and a democratic approach to decision-making. Every decision and mandate is carefully crafted to consider the welfare of all stakeholders involved.
A conscious leader gathers ideas from their reports, listens to the feedback of others, and carefully weighs the impact of any decision they’re about to make, balancing its benefits and possible consequences.
A visionary leader is the conductor of an orchestra
A leader steers all of the business’ efforts into a comprehensive, directional goal.
You can have all the great talent you need, and you can be as efficient as you can be, but all that work wouldn’t amount to anything if it’s not aligned with your overall vision. Leaders exist to make this happen.
They bring the best out of every individual on the team so they can contribute to the overall goal.
Good leaders learn how to harness the complementary skills of their team and use them to produce results that are in line with the founder’s original vision.
A visionary leader inspires change and improvement
It doesn’t matter if you’re leading a company with hundreds of employees or you’re just heading a tight team of three.
The point of leadership is to influence people to become better at what they do and, more importantly, who they are.
Good leaders spend time getting to know their direct reports deeper than just simply knowing who’s doing what. They understand what makes their team members tick and what they see for themselves in the future.
This allows them to tap into their motivations and leverage that to create synergy within the team. It also allows them to put each member in a position where they can best fulfill their potential.
Owner, WFH Adviser
Leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of experience. But what sets a visionary leader apart from the rest? Here are four essential qualities that every visionary leader must have.
The ability to see the future
The first quality of a visionary leader is the ability to see the future. This means being able to think long-term and anticipate market trends and changes.
It’s not enough to simply react to what’s happening in the present; a visionary leader must be able to see what’s coming and make plans accordingly.
The ability to take risks
Secondly, a visionary leader must be willing to take risks. Being risk-averse is the surest way to stall innovation and prevent progress.
A good visionary leader knows how to weigh the pros and cons of potential risk and make an informed decision about whether or not it’s worth taking.
The ability to inspire others
Thirdly, a visionary leader must be able to inspire others. This quality is essential for any leader, but it’s especially important for those who are trying to achieve big things.
A visionary leader must be able to articulate their vision in a way that gets others excited and motivated to follow them.
The ability to think outside the box
Finally, a visionary leader must be able to think outside the box. This quality is closely related to the ability to take risks. A good visionary leader isn’t afraid to think outside traditional boundaries in order to find new and innovative solutions.
All leaders have different qualities that make them successful. However, there are certain qualities that all visionary leaders share.
These leaders are able to envision the future, take risks, inspire others, and think outside the box. If you want to be a successful leader, start by developing these essential qualities.
CEO and Founder, Bullseye Locations
Delaying instant gratification
As the name suggests, visionaries have the ability to look beyond just the immediate possible results, no matter how tempting they may be, if its long-term consequences are not favorable.
This means they have the ability to go against their impulses and whims and make decisions solely based on the bigger picture. They are able to zoom out and have a more future-oriented perspective.
Every successful leader who has had a long tenure in any industry is characterized by this ability to establish a sustainable model that can forego temporary results in the trade-off for a worthwhile future.
Secondly, leaders who want to ensure a better tomorrow know that results, profits, and revenue are often short-term desires that inefficient leaders chase at the expense of intangible and immeasurable virtues such as organizational culture, values, beliefs, and relationships with employees.
On the contrary, leaders who want to stay relevant and successful for a long time focus significantly more on human relationships, on the values they build their company on, and ensure extending respect towards every member of the organization.
This helps achieve higher retention rates with respect to talented employees, and employee satisfaction allows them to stay in the office for longer tenures.
They can handle stress better
Apart from high IQs, visionaries also have a high propensity for Emotional Intelligence.
This means they can handle stress better, and their ability to think about the future and plan for the long run, coupled with their high EQ, helps them manage time and stress better.
They do not procrastinate on the tasks that need to be undertaken and juggle multiple errands on their plate at once.
Honesty and candid
The first and foremost quality that the visionary leader must have is honesty. They need to be able to be honest to themselves and to their followers (leaders are those that have followers).
This will allow the leader to make bold decisions, whether they are good, bad, or ugly.
Once they are honestly reflecting on the situation around them and what will happen and honestly listening to the advisors, they will be able to make better decisions in order to move to the next level as a leader.
Whether we like or hate Elon Musk, in comparison to most other billionaires, he comes off as an honest, down-to-earth bloke that everyone would love to share a cup of coffee with and pick his brain.
In order to have a vision or develop it, the person needs to be well versed and have broader knowledge than just their particular role.
They need to understand the intricacies that make the business tick, its heartbeat, and what the customers are actually wanting.
Most of the time, people are getting hired in the C roles based on a specific drive (shareholders’ profit) without paying too much attention to whether it will make or break the company.
Therefore the sales/marketing-driven leader may be blindfolded by what the consumers may want a company/brand to offer them.
Example of Jobs hiring Sculley was forced by the board of directors, who were purely driven by the underlying profits instead of thinking about what the business stood for.
Subsequent CEOs all failed at reigning Apple inc. since they understood neither the product nor what the customers actually wanted.
Therefore, broad knowledge is vital to the visionary leader in their respective companies.
The third most important is consistent improvement and looking for making something better, starting from the leader, reading books, attending seminars/talking with a variety of people/advisors.
Those leaders that have this ability to seek the best out of everything often succeed in their jobs to create a vision and persuade it effectively to staff, partners, and, most importantly, customers.
Although there are plenty of other qualities that go along with successful visionary leaders but in my opinion, these three are the most important.
Founder, Director, and Lead Teacher, Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapy
One of the most critical qualities of a visionary leader is empathy.
Visionary leaders must have empathy for those they want to help
Whether you’re an entrepreneur bringing a novel new idea to market, a politician running for office, or someone who wants to start a movement, visionary leaders must have empathy for those they want to help.
If you are a true visionary, then you see something different when you look at the world.
You see a problem to fix or an opportunity for change. You have to be able to understand the people you want to help—perhaps even better than they understand themselves—to find new ways to solve their problems.
Not only will empathy help you understand their issues or struggles, but it also will help you explain your solution.
Visionary leaders must have empathy for those they want to follow you
A visionary leader is still only a single person. There are limits to what you can accomplish alone. A business owner will eventually need other team members.
A politician will eventually need supporters. The leader of a movement needs followers to help them achieve their vision.
In order to start gathering people who will believe in your vision, you must have empathy for them. Why would they want to join or support you? What motivates them?
Understanding how your vision can speak to this audience is critical for getting like-minded people to help bring your vision to life.
Managing Director, LawLinq, Inc.
Visionary leaders can see what is currently happening in the world around them and how it affects their organization and then use that information to make decisions about where to take their organization next.
Being a visionary is not only about having ideas and dreaming big but also about making sure those ideas become a reality by figuring out how to make them happen within the means of your organization.
Visionary leaders make things happen
Visionary leaders do not just talk about change, they make it happen. They are not afraid to take risks and understand that they may have to deal with failures along the way.
It takes a combination of courage and hard work to act as a visionary leader, but this pays off when you take your organization or business to new heights that others cannot because you took risks when no one else would.
Visionary leaders are futurists
A visionary leader can review their team or organization and understand both where they are now and where they would like to be in the future.
In a sense, visionary leaders act as futurists— they do not just think about tomorrow, they think in terms of the next five, ten, or even twenty years. They don’t fear change, they instead seek to be ahead of everyone else when change occurs.
Visionary leaders understand the value that innovation can bring to their organization and how they can use it to prepare their organization for the future.
A visionary leader is someone who can see beyond the present and imagine future possibilities. They can think creatively and come up with new ideas that others may not have thought of. They are also able to inspire others and get them to buy into their vision.
Visionary leaders are often risk-takers, as they are willing to try new things in order to achieve their goals.
Some of the qualities that make an excellent visionary leader include the following:
Being able to think creatively and come up with new ideas
A good visionary leader can come up with new and innovative ideas that others may not have thought of. They are able to think outside the box and see possibilities that others may not be able to see.
Being able to inspire others
A good visionary leader is someone who can inspire others and get them to buy into their vision. They are passionate about what they do and are able to motivate others to achieve their goals.
Being a risk-taker
A good visionary leader is often willing to take risks in order to achieve their goals. They are not afraid of failure, as they know that this is a part of the process of innovation.
A good visionary leader is someone who is resilient and is able to bounce back from setbacks. They have a strong belief in their vision and are not deterred by obstacles.
If you want to be a visionary leader, it is important that you develop these qualities.
Visionary leaders are often those who are able to think creatively and come up with new ideas. They are also able to inspire others and get them to buy into their vision.
If you can develop these qualities, you will be well on your way to becoming a successful visionary leader.
CEO and Founder, Mattress Next Day
They have a clear and inspiring vision
A visionary leader knows where they want to take their team or organization, and they are able to articulate this in a way that is both clear and inspiring.
This vision gives everyone a sense of purpose and direction, and it motivates people to work towards a common goal.
They are passionate about their work
A visionary leader is passionate about what they do, and this passion is evident in everything they do. They are excited about the future and believe in their ability to make a difference.
This passion is contagious and inspires others to feel the same way.
They are confident and optimistic
A visionary leader is confident in their ability to achieve their vision, and this confidence is evident in their words and actions. They are optimistic about the future and believe that anything is possible.
This attitude is infectious and helps to build a positive working environment.
They are decisive
A visionary leader is able to make decisions quickly and confidently. They know what they want, and they are not afraid to take risks.
This decisiveness is essential in a fast-paced world and helps to keep the team or organization on track.
They are excellent communicators
A visionary leader knows how to communicate their vision in a way that is both clear and inspiring. They are also excellent listeners and are always open to feedback.
This ability to communicate effectively is essential in building a successful team or organization.
Director of Consulting, Improving
They foster an environment for innovation
As visionary leaders, we need to create an environment for innovation. That is an environment of collaboration, accepting of fresh ideas, and one that isn’t afraid of the risk of trying new things.
Those things won’t always work out. Failure should not be avoided at all costs but seen as an inevitable step on a journey of learning.
If we can embrace that culture, we can encourage our people to bring impactful ideas to the table.
They always explain the ‘why’
Some leaders try to horde information, thinking it gives them an advantage. It actually limits potential. If the people executing the vision can’t see the road map, the end result will never live up to expectations.
We should be transparent with our people, providing them with the information to understand why we are doing something and what we are hoping to accomplish.
When we give information freely, we empower our people to help us realize our goals.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can anyone become a visionary leader?
Although some people are naturally inclined to be visionary leaders, anyone can develop the skills and qualities needed to be successful. It takes practice, patience, and a willingness to learn and grow.
However, it’s essential to know that not everyone has the desire or ability to be a visionary leader, and that is okay. It’s crucial to find the leadership style that works best for you and your team.
Some people are better suited to more traditional forms of leadership, while others are more comfortable in a visionary or creative environment. The most important thing is to lead in a way that is true to your values and strengths.
What are some examples of visionary leaders?
Throughout history, there have been many visionary leaders in various fields. Some examples are:
Steve Jobs: The co-founder of Apple was known for his creativity, passion, and ability to foresee future technology trends.
Martin Luther King Jr: The civil rights leader was a visionary leader who inspired millions with his vision of racial equality and social justice.
Elon Musk: The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX is a visionary leader who is working to revolutionize the fields of renewable energy and space exploration.
Oprah Winfrey: The media mogul is a visionary leader who has used her platform to promote positivity, self-improvement, and social justice.
Mahatma Gandhi: The Indian independence leader was a visionary who inspired millions with his vision of nonviolent resistance and social change.
Malala Yousafzai: The Pakistani activist is a visionary leader who has championed education and the rights of girls and women around the world.
What is the difference between a visionary leader and a traditional leader?
While both visionary and traditional leaders can be effective in their own ways, there are some key differences between the two. Traditional leaders focus on maintaining the status quo and following established procedures and protocols.
In contrast, visionary leaders are more focused on innovation and change. Visionary leaders are often more creative, risk-taking, and future-oriented than traditional leaders. They tend to anticipate future challenges and opportunities and can better inspire and motivate their team toward a common goal.
However, traditional leaders may be more effective when strict adherence to established policies and procedures are required or in environments that value stability and predictability.
How can a team member support their visionary leader?
Embrace the vision: Embrace the team’s vision and work to achieve the team’s goals. Proactively look for opportunities to contribute to the team’s success.
Provide feedback: Provide feedback to your leader on their vision and strategy. Be honest and constructive in your feedback and make suggestions for improvement.
Be adaptable: Be adaptable and open to change. Support your leader in implementing change and adapting to new circumstances.
Be a team player: Be a team player and work collaboratively with your colleagues. Support and encourage your colleagues, and celebrate the team’s successes together.
Communicate openly: Communicate openly and honestly with your leader and colleagues. Share your ideas and concerns, and be open to feedback.
Show appreciation: Show appreciation and gratitude for your manager’s hard work and dedication. Let them know you value their vision and support their efforts to achieve the team’s goals.
Can a team have multiple visionary leaders?
While it is possible for a team to have multiple visionary leaders, this can sometimes lead to conflict and disagreement if their visions do not align. Team members must have a shared understanding of their goals and direction and work together to achieve them.
If there are multiple leaders on a team, they must communicate openly and regularly to ensure they are all on the same page. They should also be willing to compromise and adjust their ideas as needed to support the team’s overall goals.
What are the potential pitfalls of visionary leadership?
While visionary leadership can be very effective, there are some potential pitfalls to be aware of, such as:
Risk-taking: Visionary leaders are more inclined to take risks, which can sometimes lead to failure or negative consequences. Visionary leaders must balance their risk-taking with careful planning and analysis.
Over-reliance on vision: Visionary leaders may focus too much on their own vision and overlook the perspectives and contributions of others. They must be open to feedback and input from team members and work collaboratively to achieve the team’s goals.
Lack of practicality: Visionary leaders may become too focused on big ideas and overlook the practical details needed to achieve their vision. It’s crucial to find a balance between vision and practicality and develop a concrete plan to achieve team goals.
Lack of follow-through: Visionary leaders can have a lot of enthusiasm for their vision but then fail to follow through on their plans. Committing to the team’s goals and following through on their promises and commitments is essential.
Lack of empathy: Visionary leaders can become so focused on their vision and goals that they overlook the needs and concerns of their team members. They must be empathetic and supportive of team members and create a positive and supportive work environment.
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