Visionary Leadership

Abraham Lincoln - head & shoulders portrait from Believe Collective (cc) (from flickr)
Abraham Lincoln - head & shoulders portrait from Believe Collective (cc) (from flickr)

We have discussed the need for visionary leadership in prior posts on R&D effectiveness and is M&A the only way to grow but failed to define the traits of visionary leadership.  We turn now to examine just what makes a visionary leader?  It seems only fitting to start this discussion with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln who embodies all the characteristics that define visionary leadership.

I believe a visionary leader embodies four aspects or skills that are not often found in one person. Specifically,

  • Technical knowledge – most visionary leaders in business today have a significant understanding of what can and cannot be done within today’s technology or environment.  If anything they are also constantly trying to push beyond what’s doable today into what will be doable tomorrow.  Such constraints define the bounds of product or idea development, extending beyond those limitations is the charge of such leaders.
  • Marketing prowess – most successful leaders have an in-depth understanding of market dynamics and how to sell products or ideas.  We are all aware of  viable products that never saw the light of day due to lack of marketing.  Understanding how products or ideas are adopted in the market or world today can provide a significant advantage to any undertaking.
  • Motivational understanding – most successful leaders know the engine that drives successful solutions is human motivation.  Products or ideas out to change the world can only be accomplished when people working on them all share that belief.  Few executives understand the motivation of an engineer let alone other key personnel in any venture.  But when leaders can motivate their people to do the right thing, watch out.
  • Communicational mastery – most leaders know the ability to communicate both internally and externally to get your view of world changing notions out to others is key.  One cannot succeed in any endeavor involving multiple people and/or constituents unless without effectively communicate their ideas to others.

There are many other skills that a visionary leader must possess to be successful but these seem the  most important and most rare to be found in one person.  Most successful executives have one or two of the above traits but visionary leaders succeed only as a function of how well they incorporate all of them.

Can visionary leaders be made or are they born with these abilities?  That will have to wait until another hearing…