In my executive coaching groups, I’ve proposed the question, “What is a Visionary Leader?”
The responses vary. Some describe leadership in terms of spatial orientation (“first through the door,” “stand with,” or “servant leader”) while others describe a leadership that is visceral and relational, having more to do with presence than position.
Below are some examples of each. It’s possible that, as a leader, you feel more than one of these, or some combination. Regardless, it’s clear that when people describe Visionary Leadership, they think of something greater than themselves -- something that is expansive, inclusive and multi-dimensional.
What makes a leader visionary may be their ability to switch between these styles depending on the situation, organization or project.
1. Leading from above
You may be tempted to think of “leading from above” as implying hierarchy (or worse yet, patriarchy). You may think of the traditional, top-down, “command and control” leadership roles of corporations past. However, what I hear when people describe this orientation is that the leader is put on a platform or pedestal by the team. This gives them someone to look up to and also gives the leader line of sight across organizational divides (see Vision below).
2. Leading from below
The best CEOs lead from the bottom of the pyramid. They know that they will get the results and outcomes they need through other people. This “servant leader” knows their role is to clear blocks and obstacles for the team in order to keep them motivated and productive.
3. I go first
Some leaders want to be the first through the door. They are willing to take the bullet or the hit to prove something to the team. These kinds of leaders might be described as pioneers or trailblazers. They might be the kind of leader who will show the team instead of tell them. These executives -- those leading from the front -- need to occasionally look behind them and make sure the team is still there.
4. Leading from behind
The rarest of these is someone who leads from behind. This is the pack-leader wolf who leads her group from the rear, monitoring those at the front, watching for attack from all sides. This type of leader makes sure they have a clear line of sight into the team, its interdependencies, weaknesses and threats. They make it a priority to have the right people in the right seats.
5. Standing with (or alongside)
This kind of leadership looks more like advocacy or mentorship. It may be described by others as “handholding” or “propping up” but this orientation puts the leader and team member on equal footing. Don’t confuse this type of leadership with the manager who would rather be your friend than your boss. These leaders show up as a thinking partner, collaborator or a coach. They bring a coaching mindset to bear on each problem, asking the right questions and allowing the team member to be responsible and accountable.
This type of leadership looks like a circle (or a dance) where the spatial dynamics shift and change with the phases of growth of the group. Traditionally, a circle or council is considered to be a more “feminine” (read: marginalized) model, though movements like Holacracy are attempting to bring these models into the mainstream -- and make the old new again.
1. Vision (Seeing)
These leaders are the eyes of the organization, seeing what others can’t. They have an ability to perceive and process large amounts of information, which gives them a birds-eye-view of the business and insight into team dynamics. (See “Leading from above”)
2. Heart (Hearing)
These leaders are said to have their “finger on the pulse” of the business. They spend time listening and responding intuitively to subtle changes. They are also said to be the “heartbeat” at the center of the organization that keeps the blood (energy) pumping.
3. Empathy (Feeling)
These leaders are described as highly empathetic. They occupy the interpersonal “we space.” They value language and human interaction. Their style is highly relational, emotionally intelligent and communicative. (See “Collaboration”)
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I’d love to know what Visionary Leadership looks and feels like to you. Please leave your thoughts or insights in the comments.
"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."
- Stephen R. Covey
For as long as I have been around salespeople or sales teams, they have lived by (or been force-fed) the idea that they should listen more than they should speak.
The idea is to get the customer talking about their pains and needs. The more a customer talks about their pains, the more they reveal or confirm their emotional experience, including vital details about potential solutions. The more a customer talks about potential solutions, the higher the probability that your solution becomes part of the conversation. The more these words come out of their mouth (and not yours) the more they are involved and included in the act of selling themselves on the idea of your product, service or solution.
As Jeffrey Gitomer said, “People don't like to be sold -- but they love to buy.”
The same principle applies in coaching. From life coaching to executive coaching, successful coaches ask questions that get their clients talking about pains, blocks, limiting beliefs and bad habits. Coaches rarely give direct advice. You’ll hardly ever hear a coach say the words “you should.” The more the coaching client speaks, the more they externalize their inner dialogue. The more the client speaks, the more they are involved in “trying on the language.”
It’s a principle we see in Motivational Interviewing and “Positive Psychology” coaching. The more the client talks about what doesn’t work, the more a coach can respond with questions like “Is that true?” or “What do you really want?”
The more clients speak about things like change, potential, possibility and self-image, the easier it is for them to envision their desired outcome. Once again, feeling the words come out of their own mouth is them trying on these beliefs to see how they feel. The better these beliefs feel, the more the coaching client sells themself the idea of change.
I believe we can widen this analogy to include the art of facilitation. Facilitators are also tasked with asking questions (mostly to groups) and waiting for them to respond. The facilitator is in the business of selling – not solutions or ideas, but consensus or alignment.
If a facilitator were to present a group with a list of 20 vendors to evaluate, the group would be resentful and inevitably tell the facilitator where to stick his list. However, if the facilitator gently and repeatedly asked the questions, “How many names do we need?” “Who else might we reach out to?” “Who else might we include?” and “Who have we forgotten?” then the group will produce a list of their own. The group is then able to point to the list, feel good about the outcome and agree on the work at hand.
THE 80/20 RULE
The Pareto Principle (or 80/20 Rule) is named after economist Vilfredo Pareto. It specifies that “80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes,” disrupting what we think we know about inputs and outputs. It is a concept that cuts across many industries and theories of distribution. (As early as 1896, Pareto had observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.)
We now regard this as an unwritten law in business and leadership development. Where you exert 20% of your energy (or spend 20% of your time) will yield 80% of your results.
It shows up in nutrition and weight loss plans – eat healthy foods 80% of the time, and 20% of the time, treat yourself to a serving of something you love.
We see it in relationships – give 80% of your energy to your partner, keep 20% for yourself (and your personal, self-fulfilling activities).
We even see it in music production and content creation – spend 20% of your time reading other’s work, listening to reference tracks, etc. and 80% of your time writing or creating your own.
There’s no reason to believe the 80/20 Rule isn’t the golden ratio for speaking and listening – in fact (to use another auditory example), if you lower the volume on the background music at any cocktail party to 20%, you leave the perfect amount of headroom for lively conversation. It is an indication of our brain’s ability to filter signal from noise.
The same can be applied directly to selling, coaching and facilitation.
We should be listening (with the intent to understand) 80% of the time and with the other 20% we should be speaking (with empathy) and asking better questions.
ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.