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What is a visionary leadership style?

a woman with curly hair looks forward to leading the team has visionary leadership style

Think of a time when you were inspired or motivated to try something new. How did you become excited? What was the moment that kicked off the journey for you? How did you keep your momentum going?

If you thought of a specific person who motivated you or encouraged you, you’ve witnessed visionary leadership in action. This leadership style is typically very inspiring to others and involves the leader helping you see the possibilities—as well as the road to get there.

Table of contents
What is the visionary leadership style?
Who is an example of a visionary leader?
What are the qualities of a visionary leader?
How to gain visionary leadership skills
A visionary leadership approach can inspire your team

What is the visionary leadership style?

Visionary leadership is a leadership style where an individual is able to see and communicate a vision of the future to others who will help turn it into reality. You might also hear this style referred to as transformational leadership, where the leader quite literally transforms a team or an organization to match their vision.

A visionary leader understands the big picture and sets a long-term path for their team or company to get there. While it seems like a simple concept, many leaders actually fail their businesses or teams because of a lack of vision.

So, how do vision and leadership work together in this style?

1. Visionary leaders have a vision

First and foremost, leading with the visionary leadership style means seeing what goals or future state you want to work toward. These leaders need to have a vision. These types of leaders think about what’s possible or what could be improved in their environment and then see how it can be accomplished. They like to challenge themselves and others to think outside the box and push the boundaries of the status quo.

Relevant F4S motivations: Alternatives, breadth, difference

2. Visionary leaders help others see the vision

A good leader knows that it’s difficult to create impactful change without a team working by their side. So once the leader has the goal in mind, they need to communicate the vision to others and opt for a more collaborative management style to solicit ideas and answer questions from the team. This part of visionary leadership is crucial since you need to get buy-in from others to not only help them understand the road to get there, but also help you achieve the vision.

It’s also not a one-time event. When things become tough (and at some point, they will!), the leader needs to remind the team of where they want to go and how each step is going to get them further along. By keeping the group focused on a clear vision and being honest about what needs to be done, the leader will maintain their team's buy-in and respect.

Relevant F4S motivations: Affiliation, external reference, people

3. Visionary leaders turn the vision into reality

While helping others see the vision is a key part of visionary leadership, it takes actually doing the work in order to make that vision happen and, of course, be successful.

A visionary leader will help the team get through each step on the road to make the goal come to life. When challenges arise, they'll find solutions to work around or pivot. Part of this step is keeping the team motivated and giving them the freedom to innovate and find unique ways to make the vision reality.

Relevant F4S motivation: Initiation

Who is an example of a visionary leader?

Who comes to mind when you think of a visionary leader?

Many people consider tech leaders like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk as visionary leaders. Steve Jobs led Apple to introduce a plethora of new products and technologies, completely transforming the way we communicate. Elon Musk has led the charge on an innovative way to build cars and think about the transportation industry. Both leaders saw the potential in the future and led their teams to innovate and create new technology that has since changed the world.

Another example of a visionary leader is President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt led huge change in the U.S. during his presidency and worked to pass sweeping legislation, such as social security and a minimum wage. These policies were controversial at first, but have since been credited as successful domestic programs that have benefited many Americans. Roosevelt saw the potential benefits of these policies and was able to communicate that vision to Congress and other Americans so they could transform those ideas into reality.  

What are the qualities of a visionary leader?

Leaders have a variety of qualities that make them successful and visionary. Here are a few of those key characteristics that make a great leader stand out.

1. Goal-oriented

An inspirational leader is someone who has goals and focuses their work on reaching those objectives. Someone who is goal-oriented is motivated by a clear purpose, loves achieving their targets, and shares their passion with others. These types of leaders are constantly striving for bigger and better things.  

2. Big picture thinker

Leading others in the visionary style often means being able to think about the bigger picture and sharing that vision with the team. It’s easy to get caught up in the details, but a visionary leader keeps the focus on the end results and big ideas so the team doesn’t get off-track.

3. Problem solver

A problem solver is someone who looks out for potential roadblocks and is motivated to find the answers. They’re not afraid of a challenge. A problem solver can be key in tough situations since they don’t wallow in their frustration but immediately begin to look for solutions. While a visionary leadership style requires big-picture thinking, visionary leaders aren’t afraid of potential roadblocks and will be dedicated to finding the best solutions.

4. Pioneer mindset

A visionary leader often sees the potential of an idea long before anyone else. That’s why having a pioneer mindset is an indicator of someone who leads with visionary leadership. Oftentimes, pioneers will work quickly (alone or with others) to carve the pathway to their desired solution. Pioneers love bringing new ideas and change to their organization and aren’t afraid to transform the status quo. They recognize that progress happens when everyone feels a little uncomfortable.

5. Emotional intelligence

An effective leader needs a good amount of emotional intelligence in order to work well with others and lead a group. Emotional intelligence refers to a person's ability to recognize and manage their own emotions, as well as the emotions of other people.

Part of visionary leadership is articulating a compelling vision to others so they are motivated to follow your lead. Emotional intelligence helps you connect better with others and gives you a high sense of empathy.

Despite the philosophy of Machiavelli’s The Prince, in many cases, a leader who is loved is more likely to be respected and to have a loyal following. A high emotional IQ can build those positive relationships with your team instead of using fear or another negative emotion by which to lead.

Of course, leaders may have more or other qualities that set them apart as visionary. If you think you may be a visionary leader or want to see which traits you possess as strengths, F4S has a free assessment tool that will help you see which of the 48 motivational traits influence your energy and motivation.

How to gain visionary leadership skills

If you discover you’d like to work on leading with a vision or developing some of the above qualities, here are some ways you can improve your leadership skills and work your way toward adopting a visionary leadership style.

1. Learn how to set and achieve goals

As mentioned above, visionary leaders are constantly setting and working toward their goals. If you often set goals but don’t follow through, you’re not alone. For example, studies show only 8% of people actually stick with and achieve their new year's resolutions.

So how can you improve your follow-through? Try setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals to give yourself a framework to follow and see how you can reach success. People who create SMART goals are more likely to achieve their goals and avoid getting discouraged along the way.  

2. Think about the bigger picture

If you’re going to lead with a vision, it’s important to think about your goals and potential challenges holistically, instead of thinking with a narrow scope. Leaders who understand the needs of a business (or the world) on a broad level have better success finding solutions that will work.

To broaden your thinking, get out of your comfort zone and speak with people who may have different perspectives than you. Whether this means someone in another department, someone from an entirely different background, or someone who is a different age than you, all of these insights will help you see the full picture of what needs aren’t being met.

Once you feel like you have a greater sense of the big picture, you can brainstorm solutions that would be beneficial on a large scale, rather than within your own small circle. Basically, you don't want to miss the forest for the trees.

3. Enhance your communication and influence skills

A charismatic leader has a significant advantage over other leaders who can’t connect with others the same way. That’s why communication and influence skills are vital for a visionary leader’s success. You can work on your communication skills with a personal coach, or by focusing on being clear, consistent, and succinct in your messaging. If you can help others clearly understand your goals, they’ll be able to see how they can chip in and help you achieve your vision.

Having influence is a little more ambiguous, but it mostly comes down to building solid relationships with others. When you have good relationships with people, they grow to trust you and respect your viewpoints. You can use your communication skills and existing influence with others to successfully explain your vision, gain the buy-in of your team, and then lead them toward that finish line.

4. Overcome the fear of failure

No matter which leadership style you follow, all leaders are bound to experience failure at some point. Since it’s unavoidable, the best leaders know that they will fail, but keep trying anyway. If you can overcome this fear, you’ll be able to unleash your potential and wholeheartedly go after your goals.

When you find yourself becoming anxious that you won’t meet your deadlines or goals, try practicing mindfulness to accept the situation without panicking. You may also want to consider resilience training, which can help you manage adversity and build the strength to get back up when you experience setbacks. Developing these skills will help you manage your fear of failure and allow you to pursue big ideas without holding yourself back.

A visionary leadership approach can inspire your team

A leader with a vision can be a huge motivator for a team. When the leader has a solid goal, can communicate that goal effectively, and then sets up a roadmap to get the work done, organizations can accomplish inspiring things.

While visionary leadership can be difficult to emulate, working on key skills such as big-picture thinking or emotional intelligence can help set up leaders for success in motivating their teams.

If this leadership style doesn’t come naturally to you, there are ways you can gain support. Personal coaching can help you develop the necessary leadership mindset and skills so you can lead your team to bigger and better things. We recommend working with a coach to develop your personal power, so you can build the confidence to lead your team toward your vision for the future.

Keep in mind that a visionary leadership style is just one of many different approaches. From an authoritative leader or democratic leader to transactional leaders or servant leaders and everything in between, there's no shortage of styles—and you can adjust your methods based on what the situation calls for. In fact, that's a style all its own: situational leadership.

Curious? Learn more about leadership styles (and what your default approach is).

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