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Our world is facing a leadership crisis. Across the world, across politics, business and other institutions, trust in leaders is dramatically declining (what the Edelman Trust Barometer calls an ‘Implosion of Trust’).
We urgently need more leaders who put serve others at the heart of what they do.
We’ve got plenty of leaders who get things done, whilst leaving negative consequences in their wake. I’m interested in developing visionary leaders, who are called to achieve for the greater good.
But what does that mean? And could you be one of them? Here are 7 characteristics that I believe truly visionary leaders possess:
The characteristic most traditionally associated with visionary leadership, this means taking time to create a clear picture of what the future looks like. The Dreamer regularly asks herself, ‘how could this be better?’ and ‘what would I like to change about the current situation?’.
This doesn’t mean that the Dreamer is purely head-in-the-clouds, but that they consciously take time to lift their head up from the daily grind of what needs to ‘get done’ to see where they’re heading.
Like the best dreams, the strongest visions are immersive; the visionary leader lives, tastes, feels, touches, smells what their future is like.
Many visionaries fail in creating change because they only dream and their visions aren’t grounded in reality. This is usually because their vision for change isn’t relevant to, or doesn’t fully resonate with their public.
For a visionary to become a leader they need to have followers. And to have followers, leaders must seek to serve, or to benefit others. This means allowing your vision to be shaped by what your would-be followers really need. Servant leaders listen, listen, listen and think, ‘what’s the best gift I could give these people, or this situation?’.
There’s something about the way we train most of our experts that means that they support the established norm within an industry, rather than challenge it.Probably it’s the same biological instinct as a herd of animals feel; it’s risky to distinguish yourself too much from your peers as those who leave the herd are more likely to get picked off and eaten.
Yet, to be a visionary leader you necessarily need to face the danger of being on your own. Visionaries embrace the part of them that’s an outsider, a misfit, with a different way of thinking to the rest of us.
Once you settled on your vision, you need to enrol others around your ideas. Those visionaries who succeed in spreading their vision have an uncanny ability to make it exciting, relevant and urgent to others. They make us want to ‘buy’ their idea, like the very best sales people.
This requires great communication skills, story telling and the confidence to say, ‘Here’s my idea. I’m excited about it. And I want you to be excited about it too.’
Every good visionary faces resistance. Visionaries are interested in creating change and change necessarily creates resistance, otherwise the change would have happened already. If you aren’t facing resistance, the chances are, you’re not being visionary enough.
That means that a good degree of stubbornness is an essential quality of a visionary. The stubbornness to keep going, push through and remain unfazed, irrespective of who’s doubting, criticising or blocking you is an instinct demonstrated by great visionaries, from Steve Jobs, to Gandhi.
A warning though: stubbornness in isolation doesn’t make a visionary leader, it can make an arrogant, or isolated leader. Great visionaries know when to listen and serve and when to stop listening and plough through.
This is the characteristic that adds substance to the big picture dreamer. Visionary leaders combine creative, unusual thoughts, with real expertise, research and insight into their field(s).
Being a Thinker gives you foresight, wisdom and genuine insight into what is likely to happen in the future. Visionaries consciously, or instinctively use their expertise to tap into the trends and behaviours that are teetering on the zeitgeist.
Finally, to bring a vision into reality, a visionary leader is comfortable rallying others to join the cause. To mobilise key supporters, it’s important to identify what you need (information, money, people, opportunities) – and to clearly ask for it. When followers feel that they are involved in a cause, they’re more likely to passionately advocate for it.
And the more you ask for what you need, the quicker you’ll get it.
Combine that with a vision that serves others and your vision will become a reality even quicker than you imagine.
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