A CEO’s guide to visionary leadership: Dr Somdutta Singh

A CEO’s guide to visionary leadership: Dr Somdutta Singh

Crafting a vision for your organisation is the only fundamental skill a leader should have.

Somdutta Singh

Mumbai: Scholar, organisational consultant and author, Warren Bennis has rightfully said, "Leadership is the capacity to translate a vision into reality."

Let’s get one thing straight. Crafting a vision for your organisation is the only fundamental skill a leader should have.

Everything else is secondary. Period!

An upfront, heroic, and inspirational vision might just be magical: it unites individuals across the company under one shared objective and serves as the one focal point for devising strategies to realize a brighter future.

So. It's time for your organization to progress – and this journey requires a leader with vision to drive it.

When we speak of company culture, three essential concepts evoke: mission, values, and vision. The mission, sometimes referred to as a purpose statement, defines the reason for a company's existence; values interpret the manner in which individuals interact within the company, while vision describes the company's future trajectory.

Remember what legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker has said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Wait, he didn't mean that strategy was irrelevant – it was rather that a powerful and empowering culture was a certain route to organizational success.

Over my years as a CEO, founder, investor and mentor, I have had conversations with numerous executives and there’s one thing that stands out, vision always holds a prominent place in their thoughts.

Where do they envision their company in the future?

What course must they chart to reach that destination?

Should they transition everyone back to full-time office work, persist with hybrid roles, or endorse fully remote work?

How should they organize their teams?

What approach will be most effective in nurturing client growth and delivering exceptional service in the future?

You might find yourself pondering some of these same questions. The response to all these inquiries ultimately boils down to your vision or your envisioned future.

Will you press onward, or would reverting to past practices be more prudent?

You likely have the answer you are looking for.

Your vision holds paramount importance for your company culture, compelling a leader with vision to breathe life into it.

Who is a visionary leader?

Visionary is a person who contemplates the future with imagination and intelligence.

It involves envisioning the world not merely as it presently exists, but as it could be, and discerning potential where others might not.

Take this for instance. If you have a child at home, you might currently be reminded of their abundant imagination and penchant for considering endless possibilities! Children consistently detect potential where others fail to, utilizing their imaginations to conceive of what might be.

However, the wisdom aspect of "visionary" likely remains a work in progress.

Certainly, you, too, can possess visionary qualities, but mere possession of a vision does not equate to being a visionary leader.

To embody visionary leadership is to translate your vision into action through your team. It necessitates identifying your vision, articulating it clearly, and igniting enthusiasm within your team to garner their support.

Yes, visionary leadership poses challenges, yet, it is a challenge that some of the most successful entrepreneurs have willingly embraced.

Let’s take a look at some visionary leaders…

Henry Ford from Ford Motor Company harbored a vision that stirred the imaginations of many: to manufacture and market a simple, sturdy, dependable, and affordable automobile for the masses. He envisioned the world as it could be by not only committing to manufacturing cars but also by extending his commitment to the masses.

In fact, his vision was so compelling that he effectively employed it to secure investments from others.

Ford identified and attracted exceptional individuals by discerning potential where others could not. Subsequently, he harnessed his vision and translated it into action through his collaborators and employees.

Ford summed this quite well when he said, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."

Next, how about Netflix’s Reed Hastings?

Hastings founded Netflix in 1997 with an initial vision: to save consumers' time and money by directly delivering movies to their homes. Simple enough, yet, I wish I thought about it, right?

Initially, Hastings achieved success with Netflix's inaugural business model. However, similar to many visionary leaders, the crux of Reed Hastings' success lay in his transformative vision. He famously declared, "Don't be afraid to change the model."

Hastings did not cease innovating following his initial triumph. His vision evolved – what if consumers could stream movies directly to their televisions, bypassing physical mail entirely? Hastings envisioned the future as it could be and outlined the path for his team. At the time, streaming technology did not even exist!

Of course, we know the ending of this story quite well, don’t we?

Had Netflix persisted solely as a DVD rental business, would it have mirrored Blockbuster's fate?

GoPro’s Nick Woodman will definitely be on my list.

Woodman founded GoPro, a company that propelled him to become one of the world's youngest self-made billionaires. His vision originated from his passion for surfing: he aspired to capture videos and photos while out on the water. Woodman's vision subsequently expanded to encompass the broader populace.

Throughout his entrepreneurial journey, Woodman encountered numerous setbacks. For most individuals, these setbacks would have spelled defeat. Yet, the crux of Woodman's visionary leadership lies in his adaptability and vulnerability. He coined the acronym FAIL – From Action I Learn. He adeptly navigated obstacles while keeping his vision and his team at the forefront.

What are the advantages of becoming a visionary leader?

   Culture at the heart of all you do

Outlining a vision and translating it into action through your team reinforces your organization's culture.

Individuals yearn for a connection to the overarching objectives of the organization and seek to understand the impact of their contributions. Visionary leaders possess the capacity to rally individuals together and propel them toward a shared objective.

Your mission, or the WHY, and the values, or the HOW, ultimately stem from this vision.

As gathered from Nick Woodman's story, visionary leadership fosters a psychological safety net by nurturing an world where it is OK to innovate, even if it result in making mistakes. When you feel secure enough to exhibit vulnerability, you foster cohesion.

   Your teams are highly, highly engaged

We cannot talk of robust cultures and not talk about engaged employees, can we?

According to Forbes, highly engaged teams exhibit 21 per cent greater profitability, 41 per cent reduced absenteeism, and 59 per cent lower turnover rates.

Engagement entails an emotional commitment and a willingness to deliver one's best at work. Employees who arrive at work each day excited about the where, why, and how naturally invest themselves in their tasks.

You, the visionary leader ensures alignment and collaboration toward this common vision.

   No more silent departures

I don’t need to spell this out, do I?

By now, everyone is familiar with silent departures. Similarly, it's understood that robust cultures and high levels of employee engagement correlate with reduced instances of silent departures. When employees harbor an emotional commitment and willingly offer their best each day, silent departures become infrequent.

Visionary leadership is what sets the stage.

   Employer branding at its best

Your employer brand is your organization's identity and reputation as an employer.

With a visionary leader steering the ship, establishing a formidable reputation becomes effortless.

Employees are motivated and engaged, clients and customers reap the benefits, and the organization's direction is transparent to all observers. The Brandon Hall Group discovered that companies boasting robust employer brands are 3 times more likely to make superior hires. Employer branding is integral to a company's sustainable growth.

How do you become a visionary leader?

In the words of Walt Disney, "If you can dream it, you can do it!"

The first step toward visionary leadership is of course, envisioning your vision.

Visualize the future of your organization applying innovation, imagination, and rationality. Where do you foresee your organization in three, five, and ten years?

Begin with a blank canvas and commence reimagining.

Once you have a crystal-clear vision, your journey toward visionary leadership hinges on the cultivation of enduring habits. Here are four focal areas:

1.    Translating vision into action

Remember, the "leader" in visionary leadership transforms vision into action. Paint a compelling portrait of your vision and be vulnerable!

Mistakes can be made and yes, a. that’s ok and b. let people around you, you can make mistakes.

Get your team along with you on your journey and collaborate to determine the why and how underlying the envisioned future. Cultivate a habit to ensure you value and incorporate everyone's perspectives.

Remember, your vision will evolve. That’s the only way.

Imagine what would have happened if Henry Ford and Reed Hastings had shunned change? Would their narratives have been the same?

2.    Motivate people

Every member on your team is contributing something to the collective success of your business. It's imperative to invest time in understanding each team member individually.

Begin by asking them to observe:

●    What motivates you to shine?

●    How do you prefer to receive recognition?

●    What managerial approaches resonate with you?

●    What managerial approaches should be avoided?

Gaining insight into these facets will enable you to stimulate each individual's drive. Once armed with this knowledge, ponder the following:

●    How can I motivate this individual?

●    How can I acknowledge this individual?

●    How can I leverage this individual's strengths?

●    What managerial pitfalls should I avoid?

3.    Listen actively

All too often, when we listen, we only do so to reply back, right? Visionary leaders devote time to genuinely listening to their team members.

Rather than listening to respond, listen to comprehend.

Establish a sincere interest in understanding the message by eliminating distractions and posing significant follow-up queries. The psychological safety net I spoke of earlier; empathy goes a long way. Remain receptive to feedback. Feedback serves as a catalyst for growth.

4.    Embrace failures. Yes, it is absolutely OK to fail…

Visionary leaders embrace failures and gather insights from them. Following a setback, take stock of what came out well, what requires adjustment, and what lessons did you gather from the experience?

Maintaining strength and positiveness will foster similar qualities within your team. As a leader, you serve as an prototype for others to imitate.

Here are my concluding thoughts…

It's time to drive your organisation forward, and as a visionary leader, you possess the capacity to effect this change.

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, remarked, "Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to fruition."

Ensure you define your vision with precision and cultivate habits that reinforce its realisation.