Lots of employers, listing the top traits that they want in an executive hire, will list both leadership and vision as very important. How often do both of these traits actually exist at a high level in the same individual?

A leader is someone that others follow, so the skill is managing and motivating others. This takes several key abilities:
• Ability to see a clear, defined path to the desired outcome, and show others this path.
• Ability to clearly communicate critical goals and objectives, and “drive them down” through the organization.
• Willingness to listen so that people feel heard. This is a key factor in motivation.
• Capable of motivating others, sometimes in adverse situations (tough competition, after a RIF, etc.)
• Very conscious of the” destination” (results).

The above abilities reflect a balance between the big picture and the details, but do they reflect vision?
A Visionary to me is someone who sees things beyond the surface, thinks up new ideas, and can predict a future that others haven’t seen yet. This takes these key abilities:
• Possibilities and alternatives thinker – sees lots of things at once. Harder to see a linear path.
• Synthesis – can take a wide range of inputs and find solutions that others can’t find with the same inputs.
• Follow through is a chore to a Visionary.
• Management of others is less structured and more free-form.
• Very conscious of the “journey” (process).

In Meyers Briggs parlance, a Leader is often an “SJ” while a Visionary is often an “NP”. The other two tracks, I/E – introversion vs. extroversion, and T/F – thinking vs. feeling have less correlation to these roles, although I think the Leader is often a classic ESTJ, and the Visionary is often an ENTP.
Depending on the role (you knew I was going to say that eventually), I think most companies really want a Leader for key roles, especially where managing and motivating others is critical to success. They do need a few Visionaries around, to keep the company one step ahead, and develop new products, processes, and differentiation factors.
In general, I think that Leaders and Visionaries are very different, and it is a very unique situation when these traits exist in the same person.

For more insights, be sure to visit The Headhunter's Secret Guide!

Views: 182

Comment by Valentino Martinez on October 2, 2011 at 2:24pm


I think Visionaries, at first, are independent thinkers who take positions that attract rejection or support.  At some point they choose to be leaders or followers.  Some take the route of being stealthy leaders before they show their visionary cards because visionaries, more often than not, are beat-down, if not killed off, early in most groups.  Why?  Well, because they buck the group thinking that spawns its current leadership direction and successors. 

I feel great leaders, e.g., Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Steve Jobs, are actually "visionaries" first (or become so along the way)—because they embrace and make their vision a driving force and are able to weather “the slings and arrows” on their way to assuming and maintaining positions that invite taking a leadership role.  

While I agree with some of your insights about Visionaries and Leaders—and that they generally are very different people--I think what ultimately makes them different is their sense of priority and a willingness to it allow their vision, if they have any, to be their driving force. 

Comment by Tim Spagnola on October 3, 2011 at 9:57am

I always liked this topic it and for me it comes down to a person that is 'in' the business and someone that is 'on' the business. Are these two mutually exclusive? In most cases I feel that they are, but there is the occasional example of one that can rise above and preform on both sides of the fence.


@Tino - stealthy leaders...I like that one.


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