In leadership circles, there’s lots of talk about being a visionary. Rightly so. Visionary leadership is important for the success and health of any organization. Unfortunately, the ideas often shared on this topic are old, tired, and ineffective.
To help you as you look towards 2018, I wanted you to have concrete ideas to help you up your game as your company’s visionary. I turned to an expert on visionary leadership—Seth Kahan. His work has included large-scale change initiatives at the World Bank, Royal Dutch Shell, the Peace Corps, the American Nurses Association, and the Center for Financial Planning. His focus is on big, bold initiatives that create dramatic growth or significant transformation.
Scott: What distinguishes a truly visionary leader?
Seth: Visionary leaders operate in the context of contribution—they are eager to make a difference in the world and want to marry that to their organization’s growth. Visionary leaders themselves engage in three activities: self-transformation, strategic foresight, and change leadership. Visionary leaders intentionally transform themselves so they can improve their mental models and ability to exert greater influence in the world. They do this by spending time with other visionaries, making commitments that are large and audacious, and immersing themselves in new experiences. They are hungry to see around the next corner and gather intelligence on anything and everything that will help them with their strategy—this is strategic foresight. And they master the art and science of leading change.
Scott: What are simple actions a leader can take right now to develop or improve in each of those three areas you just mentioned?
Seth: I suggest these three action…
Self-transformation: Identify another visionary you admire and meet them face-to-face.
Strategic foresight: Create a group dedicated to identifying emerging trends and convene to discuss each one.
Change leadership: Buy my bestseller, Getting Change Right, and read it.
Scott: What are one or two examples of the impacts of visionary leadership?
Seth: The World Bank launched their Knowledge Management initiative to alleviate poverty by harnessing the know-how of its employees and their partners. The American Nurses Association has launched Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation™, to measurably improve the health of America’s 3.6 million nurses.
Scott: How are visionary leaders operating differently when it comes to hiring?
Seth: They recognize that talent is the difference that separates those organizations that get ahead from those that stagnate. They often need people who are on the frontier of excellent work, doing what very few others can. They recognize the need for tools and techniques to bring in the best when they need them.
Scott: What’s one secret people don’t know about how visionary leaders rely on talented people?
Seth: Visionary leaders rely on people who know how to go beyond what they are asked, people who imagine what is possible and create results where they have not existed before.
Scott: I suspect some leaders will be hesitant to invite people to go beyond what they’re asked. Especially those leaders who are fearful of losing control. What advice do you have for them?
Seth: Leadership is no longer about control. It’s about unleashing potential in your subordinates and partners. Give your people a clear objective and let them find the solution. Stay engaged. It’s not about being absent. Refine your role to be a coach or mentor.
Scott: What’s one closing piece of advice you’d like to share with our readers?
Seth: What separates the extraordinary from the rest of the crowd is the willingness to push the envelope on what can be done. This does not mean you have to succeed every time, but it does mean you have to demonstrate your hunger for creating exceptional results.
Scott: Seth is someone you’ll want to follow, as you can tell from his smart and practical responses to my questions. Here’s how you can keep on top of what he’s doing: