What Is Visionary Leadership?

by Anne Kinsey - Updated October 15, 2018
Female manager discussing business

Visionary leaders have a knack for inspiring others to action in order to create a better future and solve problems in new ways. Their leadership style creates excitement, positive momentum and longevity in an organization. People enjoy working for visionary leaders who truly want them to reach their full potential and find meaning in their work. In contrast to leaders who bark out orders to force their employees to perform, visionary leaders inspire, encourage, empower and equip their team members. Visionaries wear many hats with ease and live with character and conviction that results in real and positive change.

Tips

  • Visionary leadership creates vision around solving a problem in an innovative new way and then uses that vision to connect to the hearts of people in a way that inspires them to action.

What Is Visionary Leadership?

When Nelson Mandela stood up for what was right despite imprisonment, he inspired a vision for a better South Africa. When Steve Jobs insisted on the iPhone, iTunes and other Apple products, he did so with a big vision of something that had never been done before. When Martin Luther King Jr. organized against racial or class injustices, he did so with a vision and belief that people could and would be united peacefully in the future. In each of these cases, visionary leaders inspired people to partner with them over an idea in which they believed for a better future.

Visionary leadership not only seeks to solve a problem but also to repeatedly ask why a problem needs to be solved in the first place. For instance, a direct sales leader has a vision to build a large team in order to generate revenue great enough to support an orphanage in a developing nation and provide educational opportunities to the children. She asks herself why this is important several times until she gets to the root of what is motivating her: to honor her value of love and empowerment for all. This root motivation for her vision is so strong and powerful that it brings her to tears as she shares it.

As this business visionary seeks to get her team members on board with the vision, she relates to them out of her value for love and empowerment. She asks them why they want to work and what their goals are and then again asks them why until they finally get to their own root motives, the root that tugs at their heart strings. For one person, the motivation is to create stable family income that he never had growing up. For another, it is to engage in volunteer work with trafficking survivors, and for yet another, it is to silence the lies that try to tell him he can never achieve anything good. They all get on board with the values of love and empowerment that are driving the leader's vision. This root motivation is what gets these team members out of bed each day to work consistently, even when things get hard, and it ties them deeply to the leader's vision for supporting an orphanage and educating children.

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A visionary leader remains connected to the hearts of team members by reminding them of why they are doing what they are doing when they need a morale boost, celebrating successes and breaking down large goals into achievable baby steps and routines. The vision, goals and steps are displayed or communicated in a way that everyone understands, as well as understanding the direction they are headed. In contrast to push-style leadership, which dictates what people must do, visionary leadership inspires people to do what they can't imagine not doing. This type of leadership cultivates unstoppable energy and momentum that inspires and celebrates the best in everyone on the team.

What Is the Role of a Visionary?

The ultimate role of the visionary is to be the person who inspires change and solutions in an organization, industry or the world. Visionaries see things differently and must be able to communicate what they see clearly, as well as why it is important. Excellent speaking or writing skills help to paint a picture of a future that is better than our present reality, in a way that makes people jump on board and insist on being part of what is happening.

Visionaries coach those around them to find out how their dreams connect with the larger vision. They connect with peoples' hearts and help them clearly articulate their own dreams, visions and goals and the concrete steps needed to achieve them. As a coach, visionaries might suggest vision boards, celebration boards, personal development books and even offer coaching calls to leaders with special promise. The visionary does this with the understanding that the people he coaches will share these skills with others in the organization because the life and business changes are too great to keep to themselves. Strategic coaching helps the visionary leader keep momentum high in the organization.

Visionaries mentor other visionaries to join them in their work or take their place when the time is right. Because the vision and their values are more important than their ego or personal position, visionary leaders are not threatened by others who show promise. Instead, they welcome others, show them the ropes and teach them how to inspire others through sharing personal experiences and building relationships together. Visionary leaders believe that people go farther together than they can go alone.

Any gifted visionary understands that people accomplish more when their efforts are recognized and they feel appreciated. They celebrate forward movement in the direction of the vision. Some visionary leaders hold monthly meetings to celebrate peoples' achievements throughout the month. Others make a practice of personally calling people to thank them for their efforts, giving shout outs to high achievers on company or public social media or sending gifts. Truly gifted leaders recognize that different people feel appreciated in different ways, and so they utilize a variety of methods for recognizing accomplishments.

While the business visionary is motivated through the vision and by inspiring others to action, she does not get stuck with her head in the clouds and recognizes the importance of action. The purpose of connecting with others, communicating the vision, inspiring, supporting and cheering them on is to get results in the direction of the vision. In her heart of hearts, she wants to see their dreams come true and knows that the vision will come true in the process. The only way to make that happen is through daily, consistent work, and so she shows up, does the work and sets the example for others to do the same.

Visionary Traits to Watch Out For

Visionaries are world changers, industry changers and life changers who share several traits in common. Whether you are hoping to grow in visionary leadership personally or mentor someone in your company to step into that role, here are some character traits to look for and encourage:

  • Detail Oriented and Aware: In order to be an effective business visionary, awareness is important. You must be aware of what is happening in order to create something new and different and then stay aware to make sure things stay on track.
  • Innovative: Visionaries are by their nature creative and innovative because they come up with solutions to problems that nobody else has thought of in order to create a future better than or different from what anyone else has imagined. They are able to do something with nothing and find resources when it looks impossible to others. 
  • Convicted: Forging a new path is not easy or for the faint of heart. A visionary leader must have so much conviction that he refuses to be swayed from the path before him, no matter what problems or obstacles arise. 
  • Determined: Visionary leaders are so determined to reach their destination that they refuse to change it or give up. Instead of changing their goals when the going gets tough, they change the path for getting there and keep going. Their determination inspires hope in others so they can do the same. 
  • Persistent: Visionary leaders are persistent and know that most successful people fail more than they ever succeed. They remind themselves of all the missed shots the famous basketball star took or the number of times a baby falls before it walks. They remind their people of the same, which inspires persistence across the organization. 
  • Excellent Communicator: Vision is all well and good, but if someone cannot communicate, it never makes an impact. Visionaries are gifted in communication and they do it often in writing, in speech and in relationships. Because of how they communicate the vision, people are impacted so profoundly that they jump on board. 
  • Strategic: Visionaries are strategic and intentional. They are not shooting in the dark but rather use the vision to craft goals and to take small baby steps to get where they are going. 
  • Dedicated: Visionary leaders are dedicated to their values and the vision set before them. They are not distracted by other objectives, and they show up every day and give their best, even when their best is not the best in the world. Because of their dedication, things keep moving and progressing in the direction of the vision. 
  • Humble: Any good business visionary is humble enough to recognize that he does not have all the skills and answers needed to get where he is going. He admits his weaknesses and mistakes, as well as brings on team players who are strong where he is weak. 
  • Empower: Visionary leaders thrive on team work, with the understanding that a solid team creates less work for everyone. They encourage communication, friendship and problem solving on their teams. They empower others and equip them with the tools needed for success. 
  • Service Oriented: Visionary leaders operate with the motive to serve rather than the motive to be served. They look for what they can contribute rather than what they can take, and they find joy in serving those around them. 
  • Growth Oriented: Business visionaries understand that visions and goals are achieved through growth. They are flexible and see failures as stepping stones rather than setbacks. This growth mindset encourages people in their organization to continue moving in the direction of the vision, even when challenges arise. They may even begin to look forward to challenges as opportunities for growth. 
  • Ethical: Visionaries live their lives and conduct business with a clear understanding of ethics and the best way to get where they are going. Their underlying moral values and convictions inform their actions in and out of the office.
  • Caring: Employees and team members love to work with visionaries because they are caring and truthful. They truly care about the vision but also about the well-being of others in the office and those around them in daily life. They have a knack for connection and are experts in building healthy relationships. 
  • Inspiring: Business visionaries are so inspiring and dynamic that their visions bring unity to organizations, fields and societies. They have a knack for reaching peoples' hearts and inspiring positive change that impacts the future for the better.

About the Author

Anne Kinsey is an entrepreneur and business pioneer, who has ranked in the top 1% of the direct sales industry, growing a large team and earning the title of Senior Team Manager during her time with Jamberry. She is the nonprofit founder and executive director of Love Powered Life, as well as a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach and freelance writer who has written for publications like Working Mother, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle and Our Everyday Life. Anne works from her home office in rural North Carolina, where she resides with her husband and three children.

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