Saturday, July 26, 2014

Leadership Toolkit: When the Visionary Leader Meets the Strategic Leader

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. – Warren Bennis

About 350 years ago, as the story is told, a shipload of travelers landed on the northeast coast of America. The first year they established a town site. The next year they elected a town government. The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness.

In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build the road westward into a wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway?

Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome hardships to get there. But in a few short years were not able to see five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision.

Visionary leaders (those who see the big picture) and strategic leaders (those who create the plan) are essential for the future growth and development of any organization. But can the two co-exist? It can be a challenging relationship but not an impossible one if you follow these basic rules of engagement.

Embrace your differences
Visionary leaders tend to be your charismatic type leaders who can cast the vision with great enthusiasm and confidence. They have a clear picture in their heart and mind of where they are going and why you should too.

But visionary leaders can at times be hard to work with. In his book, Rules of Thumb, Alan M. Webber writes, “Great idea people are rare- and also frequently hard to live with. They see things the rest of us can’t see, which is their gift. They can’t see what you and I see easily, which is their burden. Still, you need them and they need a home where they can contribute.”  

Strategic leaders can be a great asset to the visionary leader by breaking down the vision into doable and measurable action steps which creates the vision. The strategic leader is the one who puts the puzzle together.

Leadership key: Your differences are your strengths. Embrace them and work together. You need each other.

Build a bridge
What strategic leaders and visionary leaders need is a way to connect. The divide between ideas and implementation must be joined. There has to be a way as Webber says to “build a bridge the great ideas can walk across from those who have to those who can make them real.”   For the vision to materialize this is a necessity. So what is a leader to do?



The vision needs a strategic plan. It has to be clearly communicated and thoroughly understood before the pieces of the puzzle can be created. From there roles can be assigned and teams put into place, and the execution can begin. The hard part will come later.

Leadership key: Before you build your vision build your relationships. The vision rises and falls on the strength of your communication and relationships.

Give each other space
The role of the visionary leader is not the same as the strategic leader, and vice versa. The relationship is one of isolation and interdependency. Boundaries must be set, observed, and protected while at the same time staying bridged with a unified goal and vision. It’s tricky.

The temptation of the visionary leader is to tinker, mettle, and tweak. Their greatest asset can now become their greatest liability. While they are excellent at creating the vision they can be terrible at designing the plan. As long as they keep interjecting themselves into the details of execution they will stifle the execution.

Strategic leaders thrive on creating the plan and seeing it come into existence. The visionary leader has to learn to give this person the space they need to work. It is a relationship of necessity, one of complexity, but most of all trust. The partnership will only survive if it’s built on mutual trust. The respective leaders have to know how to embrace a shared vision but then give each other the space needed to bring it to pass. When they do it can lead to overwhelming success.

Leadership key: Out of respect give each other space. Out of trust let each other work.

What do you say?


© 2014 Doug Dickerson




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