If you’re a visionary leader, this post is for you. If you work for a visionary leader, forward it to them.
Though a lot of people think of me as a systems guy, I actually tip more to the visionary side of things when it comes to leadership. I like to set direction, cast vision, and get out of the way. Though I value checklists and systems, I don’t love them the way others do.
Whether i was leading a summer camp business, student ministry, or brand new church, I preferred to take care of the big picture and leave the details in the hands of other competent people.
But there’s a dangerous dark side to leadership, one that has crept in to my life on many occasions. So from personal experience, here’s a behind the scenes look at the dark side of visionary leadership.
- Visionary leaders can easily overpower a room. Whether it’s a regularly scheduled team meeting or an impromptu get-together, visionary leaders can take over and impose their strong will on everyone. The doers and thinkers don’t speak up, because they don’t feel it’s their place. They sit in silence, afraid to share their opinions. On many occasions, I’ve taken a conversation off topic because it’s where I wanted to go, but mildly chastise people back to the topic when they raise supplemental issues. Because visionary leaders are so passionate about their vision, we can unwillingly override the vision of others.
- Visionary leaders try to creation visionary solutions to every problem. Les McKeown says not all problems have a visionary solution. For example, systems problems can’t be solved by throwing more vision on the problem. Systems problems need systems solutions, and those are probably going to come from systems people. As a visionary leader, I’m tempted to bring everything back to our purpose and mission, and keep us in the warm fuzzies. But there are times when we need to dive into processes and systems and create some documents. If I minimize this or attempt to check out every time, it will deflate others on the team.
- Visionary leaders tend to dump tasks on everyone. As a visionary leader, it’s easy for me to create a solution to a problem. But just because something is decided, doesn’t mean it’s done. Just because we’ve set the direction, doesn’t mean we’ve won. I often don’t consider the true cost of a decision. Not just the financial cost, but the time, energy, and intangible cost of follow through. As a leader, I’ve got to slow down and consider the real ramifications of committing to a project. After I’m gone, someone (or a group of people) will have significant work to do. I’ll be on to the next visionary problem, but they will be implementing the last thing.
- Visionary leaders are overconfident. Psychologists talk about confirmation bias – the tendency to overvalue information that goes along with their beliefs. When I’m emotionally connected to an issue, I’ll always find data, examples and reasons to charge forward. Instead of looking at things from all angles, I search out facts that validate what I really want to do. So this comes across in strong statements like “I absolutely know” or “This will work” or “If we do this, we will easily hit our goal.”
- Visionary leaders tend to leave people behind. Perhaps the biggest struggle I have as a visionary is leaving people behind. Because the vision always propels me forward, I suppose it’s a natural byproduct. Perhaps you’ve heard the scaffolding analogy: Some people are like scaffolding – incredibly useful in building something but not necessary after it’s done.. People say “it’s lonely at the top” to justify ram-rodding people and alienating relationships in the name of growth. Maybe growth at the cost of relationships is necessary, but sometimes, it might not be worth it. Well, it’s just as likely that I can’t lead as it is that they can’t keep up.
I love being a visionary leader, but I have to constantly guard against the dark side. It tempts me far more than I let on.