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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Do You Have What it Takes to be a Visionary?

Do You Have What it takes to be a Visionary?
Visionary. (noun). A person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.  These visionaries will change the world for the better over time. Who are those visionaries around you?  Do you – or they – have what it takes to be a visionary?

Visionaries come from different walks of life and professions. But generally, they are activists, artists, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and in, general, non-conformists. All have a different view of the problems they face. All have changed the world. We know who visionaries were in the past. Here’s a short selection of some of my favorites: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Walt Disney, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk.

I decided to give my perspective on the characteristics of a visionary. This is not a well-researched statistical piece; it is based on what I have read and observed in my 30+ years of business and worldly experiences.

  1. Open-mindedness. This refers to one’s ability to keep an eye open for new thinking and not be closed to new ideas just because they are different. In fact, actively seeking out new ideas would be ideal.
  2. Values diversity of thought. Sometimes surrounding yourself with people from the same background provides a very narrow focus and homogeneous solutions to the problem. I like diversity of people and diversity of thought. That is how I like to construct cross-functional and matrixed teams and I find it amazing to see the robustness of decisions and options.
  3. Action oriented.  There is a difference between a dreamer who thinks about a different world and a visionary who sees the different world and puts a plan in action to get to that point. If Martin Luther King’s Dream Speech just shared the dream of one world with all people created equal change would not have occurred or occurred as fast. Rather, he put into place activities that began to implement his dream.
  4. Conviction.  If you are a visionary, you might be treading on existing ideas and values. Many people don’t like change. So visionaries have to have a firm conviction that they are right in seeing a new world even when many shun those new ideas.
  5. Persistence. Coupled with conviction is the characteristic of persistence. Being visionary challenges prevailing wisdom and the road to change is fraught with difficulty, roadblocks, and potential legal and regulatory restrictions.  A visionary accepts those challenges and preseveres. A significant amount of energy comes from the visionary’s followers.
  6. Inspiration.  We all know of inspirational and charismatic leaders. I used to think that inspirational leaders were vocal and can get a crowd excited by rhetoric. I was wrong. To be inspirational the visionary needs to deliver clarity in the new world order and be articulate in explaining the benefits.
  7. Clarity. A fuzzy vision doesn’t work because with change, people must “see” and believe in an end result. Think about JFK’s speech on Sept 12, 1962 to 35000 people in Rice Stadium in Texas wherein he said “We choose to go to the Moon! .. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win..”  This was not a fuzzy vision of space travel but a clear goal and vision of space exploration taken with first steps to land a man on the moon in a specific time frame. And, of course, in 1969 I watched as we landed a man on the moon.
  8. Boldness.  Along with clarity, the vision should be bold, something that is not just an incremental improvement but a major change, a major shift in the way things are done. Sometimes we call this a BHAG – a big hairy audacious goal. Boldness with conviction is critical because it rouses the energies within people to achieve success.
  9. Risk-tolerance. Along with risk tolerance is the lack of fear of failure. Thomas Edison said that “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”   He framed his end product in such a way as to give him the will to succeed. By positive thinking that he is closer to an end result, he was able to maintain his work ethic and develop the electric light bulb.

Are you born with these characteristics or can you learn them?  My personal belief is that there is some internal encoding of these characteristics in your DNA but that family and environment coupled with some good mentors and influencers will solidify these characteristics.  Reading biographies and auto biographies can also help understand the thinking of visionaries.

There may be other characteristics of a visionary and you can certainly add to this list.  When you attend entrepreneur events and innovation conferences think about how these apply to the people who present and the people whom you meet.  Then imagine you, the reader, having these characteristics and the opportunity to change the world.

C-Level Partners is dedicated to helping companies achieve value creation through revenue growth and margin improvement.  We can also help with your innovation plans, advisory services and helping establish a framework for innovation (see our blog on this subject at  Or feel free to call me at 949 4394503 for a complimentary analysis.