We’re in the age of the visionary thinker: those determined to change the world with their invention; their company; their vision.
And I’m reminded of this every time I try to find a new show to watch.
Over the past few years, we’ve gotten several documentaries, movies, and drama series inspired by entrepreneurs driven by their vision. Steve Jobs. Elizabeth Holmes. Anna Delvey. The people at Uber (I haven’t watched that one. Yet.).
Even if the business fails, audiences want to see the hero so driven by their vision that they refuse to stop. Because visionaries are fun to watch.
But how do visionaries actually function in the workplace? Are they good leaders? Team members? How do you manage a visionary?
And do they always create the drama necessary to binge-watch? (Short answer: no—thankfully.)
Let’s dive in.
What is a visionary?
A visionary is someone with big ideas and a need to see them through. They are driven by the possibilities of the future and often ask, “What if?” They usually have several answers to this question.
Visionaries are hopeful. Strategic. Driven to succeed. They unify their colleagues under a compelling vision of the future, then guide them toward it.
Visionaries are people who know what they want and do anything they can to achieve it. So, it should come as no surprise that visionaries are an asset to any company.
But that’s under the best circumstances.
They can also be quite a handful. Their list of positive qualities is often matched by an equal number of negative qualities.
So, what traits does a visionary have?
What are some positives that visionaries bring to the workplace?
Visionaries can be an integral part of the workplace. Their positive qualities can make them great colleagues and motivational leaders. They see the big picture of their company’s future and fight to make it happen. And they can actually find success quite often!
How are they so successful? It helps that visionaries are:
Visionaries have a goal, and they don’t stop until they’ve reached it. They’re so focused on their goal that they can seldom be deterred. If an issue arises, they avoid it, divert around it, or push through it. If one idea doesn’t get them to their goal, they’ll figure out a new idea that will.
They’re the Energizer bunny. And they’ll keep going and going until their vision of the future becomes reality.
Visionaries aren’t afraid of change. In fact, they find it necessary: in order to achieve a better future, things in the present must change. And change almost always comes with risk.
A visionary understands this. But they’d rather try and fail than not try at all.
Some visionaries might weigh the risks, then figure out new ideas to help mitigate them. Some might simply face the risks in order to earn the reward.
And their vision is almost always worth the risk.
Sometimes, businesses stagnate. That’s often the natural order of things: you keep moving so long in one direction that it becomes habit; old hat.
But visionaries aren’t interested in the status quo. Though your entire team might be headed in the same direction, a visionary can dream up new ways of getting there. Their thinking can be so outside-the-box that they don’t just develop a new path toward success, they draw up an entirely new map.
This makes them great for problem-solving, brainstorming sessions, and improving your company’s processes, products, and services.
Visionaries understand they can’t achieve their vision on their own; they need help from their team. Luckily, visionaries often have a string of positive personality traits and transformational leadership qualities that help them motivate the team to work together in order to meet their goals. For instance, a visionary is often:
- Unwaveringly optimistic
- Emotionally intelligent
Visionaries can connect with others, communicate their vision to them, then help their team understand where their personal goals and the company’s goals meet. A visionary always believes they can achieve the best outcome and can convince their team to believe the same.
And best yet: these motivational personality traits are all contagious and can spread throughout the office, raising morale and keeping the team engaged!
What are some negatives visionaries bring to the workplace?
Unfortunately, a visionary’s qualities can sometimes go to extremes. When this happens, it can have negative effects on the workplace. I think it’s important to understand what some of these negative consequences can be so that we can better prepare to combat them.
When left unchecked, visionaries can sometimes have:
Lots of balls in the air
As we’ve already discussed, visionaries have a lot of ideas. Sometimes, it’s too many. Visionaries can have so many ideas that they’re left unsure of where to begin. Or they might have so many projects going at once that they’re unable to keep up with all of them. A lot of their projects can remain unfinished. This can lead to missed deadlines, lower productivity, and decreased workplace morale.
While visionaries usually have a clear goal for the future, sometimes this goal is only clear to them. Because their ideas can be so new or different from the status quo, visionaries can sometimes have an inability to communicate them to their superiors or their team effectively. They can see the vision clearly but simply don’t have the words to convey it. This can frustrate both the visionary and the person they’re speaking with, causing potential workplace tension.
To a visionary, their goal is the only goal. This can already create blind spots as issues arise. But it’s important to remember that their vision is a long-term goal—it exists only in the future. This can make a visionary feel that any goals or responsibilities that exist right now don’t matter as much.
This can cause a lot of problems in the workplace as tasks remain unfinished, company goals go on the back burner, and their team members are forced to pick up the visionary’s slack. Shirked responsibilities today can also cause more problems in the future—like, for instance, their vision never coming to fruition, throwing a wrench into the team’s whole endeavor.
A rigid plan
Besides being focused solely on their own goals, visionaries can also have a stubborn devotion to their own plan. As issues arise along the path, a visionary sometimes ignores these in order to continue their efforts. They might avoid team members who approach them with issues, sweep problems under the rug, or develop a path around the problem that leads the company in the wrong direction. This can cause problems to brew and grow over time until overcoming them because difficult or impossible.
A blind eye to consequences
When a visionary takes a risk, that means they understand the potential consequences of their actions and take them anyway. This is because, to visionaries, the company’s goal is their goal. They don’t mind taking the consequences because they only think of how these consequences will affect themselves—not their team or their company.
Sometimes, visionaries simply don’t believe the consequences will ever happen. This is thanks to their unwavering optimism. To them, it’s worth risking the consequences because they don’t believe there’s any way they can fail. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and the business can suffer because of it.
Ways to manage a visionary
If you have a visionary in your workplace, you’ll want to take whatever steps you can to utilize as many of their positive traits as you can while avoiding all the negative. And, through hard work (and a healthy dose of patience), you absolutely can!
Here are some tips I’ve found useful in harnessing the best a visionary has to offer.
Find a suitable partner
Some visionaries’ positives are offset by their negatives. It might help to find a suitable partner to be the yin to their yang. A partner who fills in their weak spots. If your visionary has great ideas but can’t integrate them, try finding someone on your team who can. If your visionary can’t communicate their ideas, can’t finish projects, or can’t handle balancing their long-term and short-term goals, partner them with someone who can.
It’s a balancing act. When done well, it can lead to prolonged success for your business!
Consider leadership development
Is the visionary on your team influencing the rest of your team? Imagine how much more influential they could be if they were a visionary leader.
But maybe their skills are a little unrefined. Maybe they need to be reigned in. Instead of simply balancing them with a partner, consider developing them into a better leader.
It’s possible your company already has a leadership development program. If not, you could hire an outside team to help bring such a program in. If that’s outside your budget, you could decide to take on the task yourself.
No matter what you choose, you can help deter your visionary’s negative qualities through training and development.
Keep them grounded
Visionaries are dreamers. Like most dreamers, they can often have their head in the clouds. This is what can lead to a lot of their more negative qualities: they’re so lost in their imagination that they’ve lost sight of the ground.
So, help them find it.
This can take many shapes, such as:
- Reminding them that there are very real consequences to their actions
- Helping them create more realistic paths toward their goals
- Slowing down their brainstorming to prevent them becoming overwhelmed
- Talking through ideas to troubleshoot potential problems
Approach them with opportunities, not problems
Whether or not they realize it, visionaries can have a bit of an ego. Their ability to develop ideas is a unique talent—and they know it.
So, let them flex their muscles.
If you must present them with a problem, couch it as a chance for them to come up with a solution. This way, it’s not a current responsibility (which they might shy away from), but a new future goal for them to think about.