Creative Leadership

The High Cost of Visionary Leadership

Visionary leaders are highly valued, transform organizations, and above all, rare. Everyone wants to work for a visionary leader, and many younger leaders desperately want to become one. But there’s one big legacy that far too many visionary leaders leave behind:

A trail of burned out or ex-employees.

Because visionary leaders are focused on the big picture, and looking into the future, they make it very difficult for their team to keep up. Here’s a few traits that distinguish these types of leaders:

1) They’re always having big ideas, which is great.  But in many cases that means they bounce around, attracted by the next glittering idea. The problem is, every time they get excited about a project, they get their team working on it, only to make them drop everything and switch gears when the next shiny thing appears. It doesn’t take many times changing direction before employees hit a wall.

2) Because they look forward, they rarely look back at their team.  As a result, employees often feel unappreciated, under-valued, and overlooked. That undermines their motivation and kills inspiration.

3) Far too often, they lose their best people.  Talented co-workers don’t have to – and won’t – put up with it. They’d rather go where they are celebrated, not just tolerated. As a result, visionary leaders tend to experience employee churn at very high levels.

Brand Strategist Dawn Nicole Baldwin puts it this way:

“Visionary leaders can be victims of a flavor-of-the-month mentality, chasing after the next new shiny idea without really counting the cost:
Your people.
High capacity team members will either not stick around for long—or become resentful—if you consistently abuse their loyalty by chasing idea after idea, without giving them the gift of finishing something to completion.  They become exhausted and spread too thin. (When your people say they wear too many hats, or are unsure of their job description, it’s not a good thing. You’re trying to do too much at once)
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  Ask how this new idea or initiative supports your one big thing. If you’re unsure, it probably doesn’t. Saying “no” to good opportunities ensures you have the bandwidth to tackle things that are truly great.”

Visionary leadership is wonderful. But it’s not worth it if you leave your team behind. If you’re not well grounded, mature, understand priorities and relationships, it can destroy you and your organization.

Have you ever experienced this kind of visionary leader?  

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  1. I’ve worked for more than one “leader” who was always moving on to the next shiny thing. I don’t think I ever considered any of them to be visionary. Vision is more than see what could be – it includes the ability to figure out how to make it be. Which obviously includes incorporating the talents of others in a mutually rewarding way.

  2. YES! Being visionary is more than being inspirational. Visionary leadership, without grounding in reality and focus, is just hype.

  3. Being a visionary leader working for a leader without a vision is one of the most difficult places to be. I’ve seen leaders without vision go out of their way to make sure the one with vision fails or at least doesn’t get into a position to establish that vision.

  4. I think this is a misdiagnosis Phil. Visionary leaders are not chasing the next new idea. True visionary leaders are focused and disciplined on what they have spent time processing and re-processing to ensure their ladder is against the right wall. What you are describing is the leader who has no real vision and has become an idea chaser.

    1. It’s actually a two-edged sword. My point is that the flip side of visionary leadership is often the points in my post. The very things that drive men and women to accomplish visionary things can often have a dark side. Certainly not true of everyone, but I’ve seen it happen too often not to sound the warning.

  5. From the team’s perspective, this kind of visionary leadership is like trying to drink water from a fire hose. This is such a great post from both you, and Dawn!

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