Racing down the highway while rebuilding the engine: The role of a visionary leader

After years of working with organizations and their leaders, I estimate that about 20% of people can envision the future. Most of the rest are firmly entrenched in accomplishing the business of the day. This 80%, equally vital members of the organization, are focused on what is instead of what might be.

This ability to envision the future is largely driven by personality-based attitudes toward change. At Clarus, we often use an assessment tool, Change Style Indicator, which assesses attitudes toward change along a continuum from originator through pragmatist to conserver. All change styles contribute important attributes toward organizational success.

I also have come to believe that, in general, this 80/20 distribution is a good conserver/originator balance. However, it’s not always easy on the visionary leader. It can be a challenge when you are the one holding a clear focus on a future no one else seems to see.

Over the past decade, we’ve had the honor to work beside a number of visionary leaders who have been willing to create and maintain a vision for the future, often standing alone when the first flush of excitement about a new direction wears off. From employee culture to quality performance to software platforms, we’ve worked with change initiatives that have leveraged organizational strengths and resources in pursuit of a future vision.

Often the change initiative leadership is composed of a small band of committed leaders. One senior leadership team we have had the honor to work with has led an international corporation through a succession of change initiatives. Refusing to be satisfied with “better,” they have continued to push for excellence. The CEO once told me, “Leading change is a lot like driving a car down the interstate at 70 miles per hour while trying to rebuild the engine.”

Exactly! Their team, like all in the midst of organizational change, has faced the cycle of excitement, confidence, doubt, and resistance inherent in leading significant change before the new concepts are adopted and support systems implemented. The visionary leader holds the space while the necessary systems are built and the team adopts the new normal. We created the graphic below to illustrate the steps in building effective systems to support organizational change.

How does a visionary leader rebuild the engine and stay the course? They are prepared for the long haul. These leaders thoughtfully plan, proactively communicate with their team and staff, and make themselves available to participate in plan revisions in response to the realities of change implementation efforts.

Ensure that your team has ongoing opportunities to understand, adopt, and support your vision. Plan, communicate, and collaborate early and often in times of change.

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