Being a Visionary

Today’s blog is the last in my series of five that has focused on critical leadership traits. The first four were: Listening, Humility, Accountability, and Empathy. Of course, there are hundreds of leadership traits that exist out there. These are the five that I have found are the X factor for many good leaders I have worked with in the past 30+ years of my professional career.

The last trait to round out the top five list is being a Visionary. It is probably the most challenging for most leaders. In my career, I can count the true visionary leaders I have worked for on two hands with room to spare. We’ll discuss why that is below.

The definition of visionary is: thinking about or planning the future with imagination or wisdom. It sounds so simple but is so hard to do. Why is that? In most cases the fire of the day or week gets in the way of most C level executives. At HR Catalyst, we primarily work with companies with less than 250 employees. In most cases here, the CEO/President still drops into tactical mode and gets in the middle of firefighting when needed.

I’m a realist here, and for most middle market companies, the CEO/President/Owner can only be visionary or strategically focus 50% of the time on a good month or year. The reasoning for this is as follows: they may have a leadership team made up of A, B, and in some cases C players. This fact is especially true in high growth companies. They don’t have the luxury of A players in all key leadership roles; the other key reason is that the top role in the company has an incumbent in it that is truly more operational than strategic in focus. Only about 1 in 10,000 leaders are truly visionary. Think of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Madela, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk for example. That is a very elite group of leaders.
For us mere mortals, here are a few things we can do to become more strategic or visionary in our focus. Focus on the external vs. internal factors that impact your company. What is going on outside your company can strongly impact your business – macroeconomics, political influences, industry trends, supply chain issues etc. The more you can do to focus outside your business the better. Attend conferences, join a professional organization or peer advisory group like Vistage or C12 for example. Be intentional about continuing to always develop your career. If you aren’t learning something new, you are going backwards.
Conduct a 1–2-day strategic planning session at least annually with your business leaders. Make sure you have an external facilitator to conduct the session and challenge the status quo within your company. Ask questions such as “why do we do this?” and “what if we did that?” in your planning session. Even better, ask employees what’s broken or needs improvement in your business. If you ask these questions, you may be amazed with the answers you get back.
Challenge yourself to spend 30-50% of your time working on your business vs. in your business. What does this look like? Determine the latest trends in your business, what are your toughest competitors doing that your company isn’t? Talk to your top 10 customers annually and ask them what you can do better or what can you improve. Even better, talk to customers you no longer do business with and ask them why they fired you. The more time you as the leader focus on external factors the better. You are paid to be looking 6,12, 24 months out, not looking backwards in your business. If you aren’t doing that now, I challenge you to start doing that in the 4th quarter of this year. It’s a great time to conduct a strategic planning session to focus on the future.

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Small and medium-sized businesses may not have the time or expertise to implement the necessary people strategies for business success. The ideas above can be easily implemented by you to help improve the performance of your employees which leads to increased employee engagement and increasing the bottom line. We are here to help you with the people side of your business: employee engagement, retention programs, performance management, vision, and strategic plans, leadership development, selection & onboarding, compensations programs, organizational design, employee handbooks, core values, and all things HR-related.