You might think that a great visionary is someone who comes up with wonderful, creative, profitable ideas. That is the straightforward definition of a visionary in business, and it is the basic job description of any and every visionary. But, the differentiator that moves someone from the “visionary” category to the “great visionary” category is far different. That differentiator is practicality.
By their nature, visionaries are full of innovative ideas. Also by their nature, most visionaries are not the best at narrowing down dozens of ideas to the few that fit the core focus of the business. They want to do everything all at once all of the time. Each idea is new and beautiful and worthy of the company’s time and resources.
Unfortunately, because the company’s time and resources are finite and the visionary’s ideas, while not infinite, are certainly numerous, not every idea can be implemented. That is a simple business fact. How visionaries accommodate themselves to that fact displays their level of practicality – and of greatness.
I (Rip) have had the pleasure of working with a company for several years that is headed by a truly great visionary. This founder and CEO – I’ll call her Carol (not her real name) – is constantly thinking about what the business can become and working on new ideas and relationships to help the business get there. That, we noted, is the work of a visionary. What makes her great is how practical she is in her:
- Personal humility. Like all visionaries, Carol has a lot of “out of the box” ideas. She recognizes, however, that not all her ideas are of equal merit. She admits that occasionally her concepts will be downright crazy … and that she won’t even see it!
- Collaborative teamwork. Knowing that not every idea can become a reality, Carol works closely with her leadership team to weed out ideas that do not align with the core focus of the business or which are not workable. They then prioritize those that remain and determine which will be implemented. At all times, she encourages complete candor from her leadership team. She receives that honesty because she continually demonstrates her respect for her team’s input and advice and, consequently, the team trusts her.
- Systematic approach. Determining the merit of an idea is not a matter of unfounded personal opinion. Carol’s leadership team applies a systematic approach to assessing the ideas she presents. If research is required, they take the time to do it. If metrics need to be consulted, they run the reports. If analysis is indicated, they go the extra mile to turn data into insights. This systematic approach helps Carol to accept a “no” from her leadership team and to move forward wholeheartedly with a “yes.”
- Focused follow-through. When the leadership team nixes an idea, Carol is able to let it go. She doesn’t hold onto it like a dog with a bone, or plow forward to “show them she was right.” She knows that if she forces an idea through, she will be diverting resources from the top-priority initiatives her team has approved. By letting go, Carol is able to focus fully on the ideas that her leadership team agrees with. She actively applies her visionary skills to figuring out how to bring the approved ideas to life and make them work inside her company.
The greatness of a visionary will always make itself known in tangible business outcomes. For Carol’s company, the result is a firm whose growth path has taken it farther and higher than the team could have predicted – to the tune of a tenfold increase in revenue in half a dozen years. Her leadership team demonstrates high levels of trust and loyalty because they know their voice matters. And life inside the firm is a lot of fun for all the leaders and team members!
If you are a visionary, you can lean into these four practical principles. Start with a foundation of personal humility and acknowledge both your strengths and your weaknesses as a visionary. Develop a respectful, trusting relationship with your leadership team so that you get their best input every day. Leverage a systematic approach to assessing and prioritizing your ideas. Then, focus all your amazing energy on following through to make the selected ideas a reality for your business. It’s time to be a great visionary!