Some of the world’s greatest leaders are considered visionary. Steve Jobs with Apple, Sheryl Sandberg with Facebook, Jeff Bezos with Amazon. Some people would say that’s an expected quality for a leader, but in many ways, it’s also the most difficult. Having vision doesn’t come naturally for many professionals, even those who get high ratings on other leadership skills.
Here are five strategies to help you expand your capacity to play the role of leader as visionary.
- Be insatiably curious. Make learning your sweet obsession. In other words, make knowledge acquisition a top priority. Read about a wide range of subjects. Explore other perspectives. Resist the temptation to over-rely on data. There’s an abundance of wisdom and insight beyond the numbers. You just have to be willing to go seek it out. As you broaden your knowledge and experiences, you’ll begin to see connections in seemingly unrelated subjects and industries. Use that to develop a distinct point of view that adds value and creativity. Work to establish yourself as a thought leader that people respect and turn to for answers.
- Make time to think of the big picture and long term. It’s hard to step out of the daily frenzy of deadlines and deliverables to think about the future, but smart leaders have the discipline to make that happen. They set aside time to think, assimilate, and project what might be ahead. Talk to all stakeholders and team members to understand their perspective, capture their thoughts. Opportunities always come up via these conversations; different people see different things. Deliberately step out of the chaos and into the calm long enough, and you’ll have a much better chance of identifying new opportunities and potential threats. Lead a vision session with the team or across teams. Learn to align with other teams for a wider vision and common strategic goals.
- Translate that knowledge into strategic goals for the future. Information gathering and visionary thinking, it won’t matter if you can’t transform all of that into an action plan that moves your strategy forward. Take that vision identification session one step further and identify the three key strategic goals at the same time. Three is enough as it becomes too hard to focus on more. Review them yearly, are they still appropriate, do you need to focus on other things, or change strategy entirely. Your blueprint should include measurable objectives for each of your focus areas, timelines and milestones, required resources, always identify who is leading, who is the second lead and above all else, it should be integrated with the company’s overall objectives and vision.
- Communicate the vision effectively. You’ve mentally connected the dots, but that doesn’t mean everyone else in the company has the same perspective and will instantly understand your vision too. You need to be able to describe it clearly and concisely with a passion and enthusiasm that gets everyone else excited about the journey and wanting to partner with you. Sell the vision. Sell the strategy and the potential benefits for the company and for each individual employee. If you can’t effectively communicate the value of reaching the destination, it will be tough to convince people to take the first step.
- Continue evolving. A strong and sound vision can catapult a team forward, but a lot can happen as you start to pursue it. Be willing to change direction, update plans and iterate on the vision. Keep the feedback loop intact to watch for any changes that might require you and your team to pivot. Changes such as revised industry standards, advances in technology, shifts in consumer preferences, changing business requirements, or new product supply chains. Pay attention and be willing to make adjustments to stay on track, and with a little added vision, perhaps even improve your outcome.
Playing the role of visionary is a necessary part of being a powerful and insightful leader. It’s not always easy, but following these five strategies will provide the foundation to help you get there, and over time, you’ll be seen as the leader who is poised to successfully take the company into the next decade and beyond.