He daydreamed about his moment in the spotlight. The next big thing. That’s what he wanted to achieve. He grew up envying visionary titans and hoping one day that he’d be like them. Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, those were his role models. He imagined standing on the big stage, spotlight on him, saying “Oh, and one more thing…” with the crowd roaring with applause. He had done it!
Jasper quickly shook his head, trying to dissipate from his mind the nonsense that was distracting him. His boss was walking by and he didn’t want to look like he was slacking off. He was fooling himself. He didn’t have the skills to become a visionary. That’s why he was resigned to the fact that the most he could achieve was being a follower. He had tried before, but whenever he thought he had a great idea, people would poke so many holes in it, he’d wish he never brought it up. At least he could daydream, he had that at least.
I empathize with Jasper, because for the longest time, I didn’t know what it took to be able to craft a solid vision. Although I’m still developing the skills to be a visionary leader, I know the steps I need to take. If you’ve ever wanted to make a bigger impact, these steps will get you going in the right direction. My goal is to help you realize that visionary leaders aren’t born that way, and that you already have the skills to be one yourself.
5 Steps to Crafting a Vision
I’ll preface this guide by first saying that it’s important for you to have proper motivations and intentions. If you’re looking to one-up your colleagues or undercut your boss, then even with these steps, you might fall flat on your face. While having a high moral standard isn’t a pre-requisite to be a visionaries, the most successful tend to be people who are motivated by innovating rather than backstabbing others. If you think of people who have fallen from grace, most likely their motivations were wrong and it eventually caught up to them. So, just keep this in mind as you work towards your goal.
Step 1: Look for what’s not working well
Visionary leaders develop the habit of identifying what’s not working well. While others might ignore problems, visionaries work to bring them out in the open to help find solutions. It’s this unique focus that causes others to look to them for inspiration and guidance. They tend to tackle the dirty work, things people really don’t want to deal with.
I want you to think about a visionary leader that you admire. Now, think about some of their biggest achievements, and ask yourself if they solved a problem or not. In almost all cases, they became well-known after finding something that wasn’t working well and making it better.
I really like the example of Henry Ford. He saw that the average American couldn’t afford an automobile due to the high cost involved with manufacturing them. He took that problem and applied manufacturing techniques that focused on efficiency and cost reduction. It’s because of his focus on solving a problem that he was able to become the most well-known figure in automotive history.
Your Takeaway: Find something at work that isn’t working well or a problem no one wants to address. Make sure it’s something you’re interested in solving.
Step 2: Discuss the problem with others that are affected
A lot of inexperienced people want to jump from identifying a problem to finding the solution on their own. You risk your ideas being rejected by others, or even worse, being implemented but not being very effective. There is no way that on your own you’ll be able to really understand a problem. You need to consult with others.
If we go back to the Henry Ford example, he bounced his ideas off of people like Thomas Edison and the Dodge brothers as a way to validate his approach. Surrounding himself with industry experts allowed him to see where the areas of opportunity were. He also got the added benefit of seeing who was most interested in helping achieve his goals.
A common fear that you might have is if you reveal everything, someone else might take your ideas and the credit. There’s such a small chance of this happening that I wouldn’t worry about it at this point. You’re not presenting your grand plan here, you’re simply listening to others to gain their perspective. They’ll be happy to discuss, and you’ll be happy to collect more insight. Plus, you may find people who would be willing to help you along the way too.
Your Takeaway: Identify five people who may have insight or opinions about the problem you identified. Schedule some time with each of them to hear their thoughts. Remember, you want to be listening here, so come with good questions and don’t focus on your solution.
Step 3: Craft a plan of action
So far it’s been pretty easy, but now comes the part where you need to really think about potential ways forward. You have the problem you want to address, and hopefully enough feedback from others to validate any assumptions you’ve made. Be bold in your proposals right now, because they’ll get more refinement later.
While this plan will almost never be your final one, try to think through short-term and long-term wins to achieve your vision. Henry Ford knew that he needed to build a brand before he could sell his vehicles, so he went into automobile racing. He built and successfully raced cars with the engines he designed and built. His name went viral, and it allowed him to work towards creating a wildly successful company around his achievements.
Crafting a plan is your job, but don’t worry too much if there are some holes in it. The goal is to have something that is clear and easy to convey to others. You want to have clarity on the issue, realistic solutions, and tangible benefits of investing time in it. If you have these three things, then you’ll find yourself in a strong position.
Your Takeaway: Collect the feedback you’ve gotten and spend some time alone writing out your description of the problem and why fixing it is important to the company’s goals. Now, write down three potential solutions and the risk and benefit involved with each.
Step 4: Refine the plan with others
I doubt you’ll find a story of a visionary that woke up one morning with the final solution in their mind. Even the most brilliant minds had to spend time refining their ideas. For instance, the Wright Brothers knew that they wanted to fly, but it took them years and years to finally refine their ideas into what was to be the first airplane.
There are two really important parts here. One is that you shouldn’t be afraid to discuss your plan with others. Secondly, you should make sure you discuss it with people who have shown interest in tackling the problem. Hopefully, of the people you consulted with previously, some of them, if not all, will be good candidates to help you refine your plan.
While you need people who can give you critical feedback, be careful not to spend time with the ones that can’t see the possibilities in the challenge your attempting to solve. Your plan is a little baby, and you need to consult with people who will nurture it and help it adapt and grow.
Your Takeaway: Of the five people you chose before, choose the ones that were the most enthusiastic about the problem you’re trying to address. Show them your plan and ask for critical feedback. Collect those suggestions and alter your plan so that it’s stronger and more robust.
Step 5: Stay committed, push it through but adjust
If you feel you’ve got a solid plan, it’s time to take it to your boss and/or other leadership within the company. You should be confident with your recommendation at this point, since you’ve refined it with feedback from others. There may be more refinements you’ll need to make, but for now, your goal is to get people who can make things happen to start thinking about it.
Be ready for pushback and stall tactic. If your ideas are truly revolutionary, chances are it’ll take time to convince people to take them seriously. This is where your persistence will pay off. Remember, you’re the only one who really believes in what you’re proposing, so if you lose hope or confidence in it, no one else will pick up the slack.
Going back to Henry Ford, you’ll be surprised to know that he had a few failed car companies before finally making it big. He had plenty of people who continued to cast doubt on his ambitions, but he persisted, adjusting with each failing. The same goes for the Wright Brothers. They dealt with scorn and ridicule from around the world until they were finally able to prove they had a flying machine. Think about Steve Job’s journey, being kicked out of the company he founded only to return and finally push forward his vision.
Your Takeaway: Present your plan to your boss and to other leadership to begin to drum up interest and support. Take their feedback to heart and adjust your plan accordingly. You will get resistance, but to be a true visionary, you need to win over the opinions of others. This takes persistence and refinement.
You have it in you, now go be a visionary
I’ll end by reminding you that self-doubt is your worst enemy. I purposely titled this post Becoming a Visionary Leader with The Skills You Already Have because I’m a firm believer that you already have the skills you need. You simply need to practice the steps we’ve gone through and make them a habit. You are a visionary, so start solving the problems around you and showing others the value you bring.
Credit: Feature image by Freepik