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”)
I’d love to know what Visionary Leadership looks and feels like to you. Please leave your thoughts or insights in the comments.
ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.