The Art and Science of Being a Visionary

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There is a special skill that is required to be a true visionary. Your head has to be a bit in the clouds to dream of options beyond today’s possibilities, but you also must position yourself to ensure that those ideas are executable.

There are many examples of people who remained steadfast to their vision. Abraham Lincoln lost to his political opponents numerous times. Colonel Sanders was rejected by 1,009 restaurants for his franchise idea after he lost his business to a fire. Elvis Prestley was told he couldn’t sing by Sun Records. Fred Astaire was told that he couldn’t act or dance. Harrison Ford was told that he would never make it in the acting business. At the age of 22, Jerry Seinfeld was booed off the stage.

What is it about these people that anchored them so strongly to their vision to the point that they had the tenacity to endure through these trials? What enabled them to ultimately see their vision through to fruition? Obviously, they did not quit, but there are several key leadership behaviors associated with being a visionary. A few of them are listed below.

Being Exploratory

There is a discipline to thinking about the future at a big-picture level. It involves un-anchoring from what is currently done and what is currently pursued and resisting the urge to close on ideas too quickly. Being exploratory involves remaining open and prioritizing the big picture. Remaining open refers to allowing time for concepts to develop, and a willingness to gain understanding and learn more as you go. People who rush toward closure can settle on a less than ideal situation.

Are there aspects of your life which you are seeking to close that are not ideal? Could “sitting with it” a bit longer (however undesirable that might be) help provide you with additional clarity?

Prioritizing the big picture means that you can focus on how everything comes together into one cohesive whole. Detail oriented people can struggle with this as they often concentrate on the individual parts or would rather focus on execution. When it comes to crafting a vision, however, understanding the relationship between different options, ideas and goals can provide you with insight on how different courses of action might play out, as well as how current activities may be limiting future capabilities.

Having Boldness

While some people associate boldness with large scale efforts, for many people it has more to do with being willing to try things and go move in different directions. This is a form of self-disruption. It also requires un-anchoring from things that have led to success in the past. Boldness requires being adventurous and speaking out to stretch boundaries and cause people to rise to meet the challenges in front of them.

Being adventurous refers to focusing primarily on the opportunities and possibilities ahead vs. focusing solely on the possibility for failure. While risks should be analyzed and weighed, focusing solely on risks is a recipe for inaction. An adventurous approach enables you to take action amidst conditions of uncertainty and positions leaders to learn, grow and be competitive. Being adventurous is also a great way to view obstacles and the challenges that inevitably arise along the way. As leaders consider their long term vision, they must purposely unmoor from perceived limitations, at least temporarily.

Are you willing to take action despite feelings of uncertainty or discomfort? In what ways are perceived limitations holding you back from considering a better future?

A willingness to speak out is an aspect of having boldness that enables leaders to take social risks and discuss audacious ideas and goals, knowing that not everyone may agree. Speaking out helps to create a culture where people go out on a limb, and are willing to bring forward ideas that might be perceived as unconventional to some. It creates a culture of pushing boundaries and discussing them openly.

Do you have a willingness to share your ideas with others? Why or why not?

Be Willing to Test Your Assumptions

Testing assumptions is a skill and process that helps to ensure that the vision stays grounded even while bold and exploratory behaviors are demonstrated. Assumptions can be tested through gathering data, conducting research, evaluating options formally and seeking input from others. It also involves surfacing potential issues and problems from obstacles that may arise.

Leaders who tend to process decisions independently rely heavily on their own assumptions. While they may enjoy taking the lead on the issues that affect the vision, they aren’t tapping into other resources that will further enable effective decision-making. While seeking the perspective of others can feel less immediate or smooth, it helps to provide a broader perspective to business leaders.

Are you willing to listen to the thoughts and ideas of others?

Leaders that are bold and exploratory must also be willing to explore the implications of their decisions and do their homework and examine ideas. This ensures that the vision that has been developed is within the boundaries of reality and aligned with the organization’s mission.

Transition Designs is dedicated to helping organizations and individuals create a strategy in the midst of uncertainty. We help you assess your current situation, create a plan that is congruent with your goals, and manage the “in between place” along the way. Clients typically work with us to design a custom plan tailored to their unique situation and goals. To learn more or subscribe to our articles, please fill out the information below.

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