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The Visionary Leader: Captain or Mid-Wife?

I find myself rethinking vision and leadership.

Who do you know who seems to see what no one else sees? Not because no one else has eyes, but because no one else is looking.

Visionary leadership is not about seeing something entirely new as much as it is about seeing what is already there unfolding in a way no one else yet expects. Just as our brains filter out most of the visual data in our field of vision so that we can pay attention to what is most important, so in our busy and complex lives many of us may not be able to see what is unfolding right in front of us.

The visionary leader is more rarely the source of brand new ideas. She or he is rather the highly aware and deeply reflective one for whom all persons, events, stories, dynamics, and trends are precious and meaning-laden data.

What distinguishes the visionary is the capacity to interpret this flood of information from a variety of vantage points. It is as if he or she is rearranging the tiles in a mosaic so that entirely different pictures emerge than the otherwise obvious one that everyone up until that point had been convinced was the only one.

What we encounter in many hierarchical organizations are positional leaders who aspire to be perceived as visionaries. (A common cultural bias.) They consequently “do vision” out of their hierarchical frame of reference, which is to act as the primary idea generator, strategy definer, and program creator.

The significance of distinguishing the personal skill from the organizational position lies in the very real possibility that the visionary leaders in your organization may not be the positional leaders. They may not even be on your radar screen. But they are there. Observant, reflective and influential.

Think about it. Think through the people on your team. Think through people in other departments. What if someone in the accounting department could see in the numbers new possibilities for how you went about your work which you couldn’t see from your vantage point in operations? What if your receptionist understood your clients’ needs better from his or her perspective of helping than your marketing team could from their perspective of selling?

And who has eyes and ears integrated enough with their heart and mind to watch these dynamics on a number of fronts and across a spectrum of personalities, roles, functions and processes? What kind of person does it take to see what ideas, directions and connections might be unfolding in enough time to participate in their emergence?

Maybe “mid-wife” would serve as a better metaphor for visionary leader than “captain.” I wonder.

What do you think?

I think the emerging mosaic deepens and sharpens a bit more.

This article flows out of recent conversations with Marion Skeete of LegacyMakers International. (These recordings are available on our web site and on iTunes.)
As conversation always enriches and challenges, I find myself here needing to pause, reflect and adjust my conceptions of visionary leadership in light of my discussions with Marion.

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- Karl Edwards

Here's My Thought...

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