Learning to be visionary


I am fortunate to be able to work with many mid-career leaders who are naturally brilliant in their field (some may erroneously call this “left brained“). Many are “sensors” in Myers-Briggs terminology, who have spent their careers dealing with facts and logic and may not yet have fully developed their capacity to look at the big picture, to dream about possibilities and imagine what their organizations can look like in the future.

When I first started working with leaders who realized that they needed to become more visionary, I was worried. How does someone develop THAT if they’d not had it before? Visionary thinking comes quite naturally to me. How could I possibly help someone to learn to do something so esoteric that I hadn’t had to learn myself?

I really shouldn’t have worried so much. Trusting that these leaders innately knew how to be more visionary, asking a few good questions helped to bring out their future big-picture-thinking helped me to understand that nearly everyone has this ability. It’s a muscle that requires exercising, but we can learn to bring it forward.

And so this post is dedicated to the brilliant and now-visionary leaders I’ve known. They taught me (and now you) that vision is a learnable skill. Some foundational steps to take to get started became clear. Here are some things to begin with that worked for these bright, farsighted leaders that you can try:

Get out of the weeds: You must free up time and head space to think bigger. If you’re spending time doing the quick-fix problem solving kinds of things that aren’t directly related to creating a vision, then stop or delegate them. Bigger picture thinking requires a different mindset, and getting out of the weeds of daily work will help you to develop it. Let someone else do them, and use your new freedom of time and thought to learn and think.

Develop others: Mentor, coach, and help others to achieve and exceed what they think they’re capable of. This might sound like an odd step to becoming more visionary, but when you coach others, you are helping them to think about the future – so you will naturally do so with them. Besides, with your newfound desire to delegate to others, developing them is a natural fit. You’ll find that you learn along with them, as long as you stay open to it.

Learn and connect: So many leaders I know don’t set aside time to read about competitors and others that are doing similar work; they may even need to learn more about how their company works. Being visionary doesn’t mean that you have to make things up from scratch. It helps to know what others are successful at, and that often requires finding relevant articles or reading books written by others inside (or outside) of your industry. Similarly, make connections with people outside and inside of your organization who may have something to offer that will stretch your thinking; look for those who are visionary and creative thinkers.

Finally, be reflective about what you are learning by setting aside time to consider your new situations, learning, and conversations. Record them or find a thinking partner to help you process your learning and connect it to an organizational vision. It will take time, but all of these foundations will help you to begin to exercise your visionary muscle.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

2 comments on “Learning to be visionary

  1. Excellent post Mary Jo, and very appropriate for the eve of the new year.
    As I was reflecting on your words, I realized for me it was about changing perspective, whether physically or intellectually getting yourself into a different place will always help create a new vision.

    Thank you for your thoughts,
    Happy New Year!

  2. Happy new year, Carl and thanks for that thoughtful addition. I do encourage leaders to get out of their normal routine (take a hike – literally, or take a vacation, a trip, or a self-directed brief sabbatical) whenever they need to spark their creativity!

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