The Struggles of Visionary Leadership and How to work with such Leaders.

Arvind Mehrotra
6 min readAug 31, 2023

In any company, visionary leadership is a prized quality. Companies build external and internal training programs to develop senior managers and C-level executives and support them with executive coaches to imbibe creative imagination, strategic thinking, imagination, collaboration and growth mindset traits. Organisations headed by such visionary leaders succeed as industry trailblazers.

But that is not to say that visionary leadership does not come with its struggles. A Harvard Business Review study found that the positive effects of this leadership style can break down under certain conditions — for example, when there is limited communication or strategic misalignment.

Yet, the ability to convey, inspire, and execute a vision is critical for an innovative enterprise. Most recognised brands today are known for their visionary leadership approaches, often setting an excellent worker apart from great performers. Some ways to recognise Visionary leaders who are struggling with onboarding employees to their vision or cause are:

· Every employee, partner or provider must undergo training in the company’s vision from the beginning of their journey. Leaders who do not use clear and straightforward communication, do not standardise on project management tools, and define feedback mechanisms and processes to help them understand the vision and their role often struggle in carrying the team forward for scaling.

· Acknowledge your employees often for their contributions, achievements, and challenges. Use positive and specific recognition messages that show appreciation and respect.

· Encourage employee engagement and motivation by creating a solid company culture that supports resilience, innovation, and collaboration. Provide opportunities for learning, growth, and leadership development.

That is why it is so important to know how to navigate the struggles of visionary leadership and come out on the winning side. How do you gain from its benefits while mitigating risks? Here are my suggestions:

1. Distill ideas early

Many visionaries find themselves facing an ideas-overwhelm, constantly innovating in new areas, products, and tools. They may be eager to experiment and jump into a new venture, which is part of the DNA of a growing, agile business.

However, too many ideas can be harmful when you need the strategy or resources to execute one/all of them. For this reason, the feasibility analysis of concepts and distilling them into clear ideas/frameworks is fundamental at an early stage. Establish a process to turn ideas into action and prioritise ideas in terms of the risks, resources, and rewards involved when making decisions.

2. Manage expectations at every step

One of the critical challenges of visionary leadership is that these individuals tend to think long-term, aided by a high EQ and superior forecasting capabilities. But this often translates into unfair expectations that may need to be more viable and advisable.

One of the common areas where expectation management is necessary is timelines. Inspiring teams to reach for the impossible and push the boundaries is excellent. However, doing so, as a practice, may lead to better work-life balance, sub-par quality of work, or better decision-making.

Instead, open the lines of communication to understand what is possible, by when, and what works best for the organisation and the team.

3. Don’t be afraid to over-communicate

A visionary leader may assume everyone else is on the same page with their vision — but that is not always the case. Such lack of clarity can lead to errors, and during root cause analysis, the team can struggle with a lack of transparency and accountability.

That is why it is better to err on the side of overcommunication. Feel free to repeat yourself, hold multiple group and one-on-one sessions, and document ideas. It will also help set clear targets (a quality more common in transactional leaders than visionary ones).

4. Maintain boundaries

Visionary leaders tend to be highly committed to their work and often associate their work-life with a critical aspect of their identity. But, for better or worse, that is not the case for every team member. Imposing a leadership style upon someone with a different work style may come off as intrusive.

Visionary leaders must be careful not to overstep boundaries. Formal training in maintaining work-life balance and transactional leadership qualities can be beneficial here. A culture of documentation and process-oriented work can also help the leader maintain healthy boundaries with themselves and the team.

5. Develop L&D programs for visionary leaders

Due to their nature of work and intrinsic leadership style, it is easy for visionary leaders to get stuck within an ivory tower. Since they are not involved in the day-to-day running of operations, they can lack particular crucial perspectives, leading to frustration for the rest of the team.

It is avoidable through robust L&D programs that constantly acquaint and reacquaint visionary leaders with different subject matter areas, new skills, and new people. Remember, leaders with vision are not self-serving or shortsighted in any way; any experience that widens their worldview helps them stay better connected to everyday realities. Such leaders are often assertive and sociable.

6. Assign a workplace mentor or “buddy.”

The buddy system does not have to be limited to young professionals and new hires alone. Visionary leaders often pair with someone with an opposing skill set. They can perform better. Buddies or mentors can keep Visionary leaders aligned with the business roadmap, drive focus, and inspire new ideas. The most obvious and effective way to make the best of a visionary leader is to pair them with someone with the opposite set of skills, a professional buddy. This person will anchor the visionary from drifting too far from shore while giving them a good amount of lead to do what they do best. This designated voice of reason must be someone that the visionary trusts and will listen to.

7. Inconsiderate of Succession Planning

To a visionary, succession planning is working backwards; it is not their strong suit. They are so focused on the end goal and optimistic that they will achieve it that they miss the opportunity to define and finalise a successor. Long-term vision closes your eyes to short-term realities, which can be stressful for the organisation and the management team, besides the visionary leader’s team.

Visionary Leadership traits are critical for all tiers of management.

A visionary leadership style not only allows short-term growth but has significant impact on long-term organisational growth. It has many benefits, from having a high-risk appetite to an intrinsic ability to coach others. Visionary leadership is crucial for senior, middle and lower-level managers, who play a key role in strategic change. As identified, the HBR article “Why Visionary Leaderships Fail” articulated that

· Middle management has the critical ability to inspire their teams and create strategic alignment.

· Middle management has a shared understanding of and commitment to the company’s strategy and acts as a bridge between planning & execution teams.

· They bring to the table a core element in successful strategy execution.

It is no wonder that many company leadership frameworks typically list visionary leadership as a critical leadership competency for managers. Google’s data-driven Project Oxygen identified visionary leadership as one of the eight traits of stellar middle managers.

To harness these individuals, one must know how to properly manage visionary leadership’s struggles and institute processes that help along the way.

Do you think the pros of visionary leadership outweigh the cons? Let me know in the comments below or email me at Arvind@am-pmassociates.com.

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Arvind Mehrotra

Board Advisor, Strategy, Culture Alignment and Technology Advisor