What is visionary leadership?

What is visionary leadership?

The big picture. The end goal. The vision.

That’s what visionary leaders specialise in. But it’s more than just an idea of what success looks like.

This leadership framework requires charisma, communication skills and infectious enthusiasm. And just a dash of radical thinking, too.

What is visionary leadership?

Visionary leadership is the style made famous by the super-rich people you see running high-tech, high-profile start-ups. This type of leader believes so intently in their vision for the future that nothing is impossible. And they expect their team to feel the same way.

This type of leadership can be great for winning over stakeholders and motivating employees, especially during challenging times. A visionary leader can be fantastic for PR, too! And paired with a more strategic leader, well… almost anything is, in fact, possible.

When is visionary leadership effective?

Visionary leaders do well in fast-paced industries, such as tech, or within agencies where it’s necessary to unite professionals under one shared vision. On the more radical end of the scale, visionary leaders are probably best supported by organisations that have a lot of money; otherwise, their risk-taking can quickly cost the company its success.

New organisations also benefit from visionary leadership, provided there’s a highly strategic partner or senior leadership team to help keep things on the straight and narrow.

If you’re worried that you’re erring too far on the ‘radical’ side of this leadership style, here are some core tactics to use to rein in your eccentricities without losing that unique, innovative and charismatic edge.

  • Workshop Tactics: use Sticky Steps when you’ve got a fantastic goal in mind, but you need a practical plan for achieving it. Assumption Collecting can help you reduce the risk that assumptions create (whether that’s your grandiose assumptions about what’s possible, or your team’s scepticism about the same!).
  • Idea Tactics: use Concerns, Confusions, Conflicts to stress-test your ideas with the rest of your team, and Invest Your PipCoins for a democratic approach to decision making.
  • Team Tactics: use Roles & Responsibilities and Team Strategy to set boundaries, create clarity about who does what and to give autonomy where it’s needed.

If you are the visionary leader and you don't have a strategic streak (or counterpart), then you'll need to have a strong culture of accountability and psychological safety so that your team can call you out on rash decisions when they need to.

Pros and cons of visionary leadership

  • Pros: highly innovative, can be extremely rewarding for people who are suited to it.
  • Cons: high levels of risk, and it’s possible for employees to burn out when they are constantly asking ‘What if’ and never actually finishing a project.

The problem with this type of leadership is that ‘visionaries’ are rarely concerned with practicalities like budgets, deadlines or HR policies. In fact, you could say that a visionary leader who does incorporate all of those things into their leadership practice is, in fact, a transformational leader.

And to muddy the waters even further, a leader who combines different approaches as required is a situational leader... Sounds like being 'visionary' alone is not quite enough.

How does visionary leadership compare to other leadership styles?

This framework is one of the most radical approaches you can apply to your leadership practice. Take a look at How to lead: 11 leadership styles and frameworks to see how it compares to other (more practical) leadership styles.

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