Roy Ferman is the founder and CEO of Seek Capital.
In my many years in business, I’ve seen my fair share of so-called visionary leaders — both in and outside of finance — who nod to the applause of their workers or fans when they announce some new plan or idea. But in my experience, visionary leaders usually don’t have everyone agreeing with them.
In fact, in more cases than not, visionaries have people shaking their heads and objecting to their new, bold ideas. But that leads us to ask the following:
What Is A Visionary?
Let’s get our terminology straight. In my book, an entrepreneurial or business visionary is the only person with a bold, unique idea in the room. More specifically, visionaries have ideas that no one else does — otherwise, their ideas would be generic and deemed best practices.
How can you tell whether you’re a visionary, or whether you at least have a visionary idea? Simply put, you know you’re on the right track when no one else agrees with you.
That probably sounds a little controversial, but hear me out. In most cases, people go with what’s tried and true. This holds for business as it does for anything else.
Visionary ideas are the ones who seem so out of left field or from another planet that people typically dismiss them outright. If you’re already a business person or entrepreneur, your advisors may tell you that you’re wrong. If you’re not yet in the entrepreneurial game, your family members or co-workers might tell you that you’re crazy.
But that’s the thing about visionary ideas — they seem impossible until someone in the right place at the right time actually executes them to their fullest potential. Remember, not many people thought that the iPhone would succeed.
Does This Mean All Visionary Ideas Are Good? Well, Not Exactly
That said, I don’t necessarily mean that every new idea is gold. Nor do I believe that every visionary has perfect ideas that don’t need iteration or adjustment — pivoting is essential for most businesses to succeed.
So while being a visionary often involves being told that you’re wrong more than once, you should still pay attention to what people say and exercise your best judgment. Sometimes your idea really can’t work out, but sometimes what’s causing your advisors to caution you is they can’t imagine the future the way you can.
I believe the difference between the two is what separates successful entrepreneurs from failed ones. It can be a lonely path, but it’s one that true visionaries are often destined to walk.
The Visionary’s Job
Being a visionary leader is a full-time job in more ways than one. This is doubly true if the entrepreneur in question needs to be the CEO of their new business and fulfill staffing — if they need to wear multiple hats to keep their business lean and minimize expenses.
In my experience, there are three main aspects of being a visionary that are consistent regardless of industry.
Seeing What No One Else Does
A visionary can see things that no one else can imagine. This is usually related to their industry — for instance, Steve Jobs saw an opportunity to create portable pocket computers, which led to the birth of the iPhone and revolutionized the entire cellphone market.
However, before the iPhone made waves, virtually no one could imagine the need to take your computer with you everywhere you went. In fact, some people considered iPhones to be gimmicks.
Now, though? Most of us have smartphones in our pockets. It’s clear who ended up being right in this particular example.
A visionary is playing a game of chess while everyone is playing checkers, meaning that while everyone else sees one to two moves ahead, the visionary sees five to six moves ahead. They are able to factor in the current conditions and sprinkle in the potential future factors to see an outcome that no one else could perceive. They are often playing with multiple variables in mind — think trying to make five Rubik’s Cubes all work together at the same time. When they see the pieces fall together in their mind, there is nothing more exciting for the visionary.
Second, visionaries must be able to communicate their ideas clearly, regardless of pushback or initial objection. They need to do this both to investors and to any employees or workers they may hire. This is a separate skill entirely, and some visionaries are undoubtedly better at it than others.
I recommend practicing boiling your ideas down into one to three sentences that you can repeat in your sleep. The sentences should capture the thrust of your idea or venture, effectively acting as an elevator pitch.
This can often be challenging for visionaries because the way they see the future is so clear in their minds but not in the minds of others. They often have to work to slow down and explain the details after they have shared the big picture. It’s easy to get people excited about the big picture; it’s when the “How could that ever happen?” questions start that the next phase of communication begins. The devil is in the details.
Identifying And Outlining First Steps
Having an idea is one thing. Being able to come up with a plan and execute that plan is something else entirely. True visionaries don’t just see the future — they also know how to get there. As a visionary, you need to be able to see and plot out the first steps you need to take to make your vision a reality. This is often easier said than done, and it’s incredibly specific to your business or industry. But it’s just as much a part of being a visionary as the more abstract aspects.
All in all, not everyone has what it takes to be a visionary. I believe some people are simply wired that way, and others are not. But I also believe that being a successful visionary is contingent on hard work and remembering the three lessons above.
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Roy Ferman is the Founder and CEO of Seek Capital. Read Roy Ferman’s full executive profile here.