I Am No Visionary (And Neither Are You!)

I spend a lot of time reading people’s social media bios. I know, get a life. But people fascinate me, and I love the opportunity different social sites give us to see how someone describes themselves in a sentence or two. For a lifelong student of psychology, you can’t beat it with a stick.

Now, I’m not just a psychology-hobbyist, I’m a New Englander, and I have to tell you, my ancestors the Puritans were pretty dour people. I carry their baggage with me, even though I try to laugh it away. So when I hear someone bragging on themselves, that just looks silly to me. Or desperate. Or desperately silly.

Imagine if your favorite social site were for love connections rather than networking or friendship. And imagine what you’d think if you read someone’s bio that said, “I’m gorgeous, witty, brilliant, and really good in bed.” Seriously, folks? You forgot to add, “…and my ego could eat Manhattan!”

So now back to Twitter, LinkedIn, FaceBook, etc. Do you really want to go calling yourself a guru? A rock star? A visionary?

That last one, “Visionary,” has particular meaning for me. Before I started Coine Language School, the owner of the school where I taught had a promotional video made in which the narrator called her a “Visionary.” We teachers, who knew her quite well, snickered as we watched. From then on, this lady was “The Visionary” to us, not the president. Suffice it to say, she was a lady who ran a small, successful business. She was no visionary.

Flighty, flakey, ADD, or temperamental leaders are often called visionaries by the more grounded folks around them. This can certainly be based on the truth, of course. But just because you can’t focus and you have a strong will doesn’t mean you see the big picture more clearly than everyone else. To me, that is what earns you the accolade of visionary: insight, a view of what the future might be.

If I say or write some things that make you want to call me a visionary, that’s great – what a compliment! But you aren’t going to find that term in my Twitter bio anytime soon. I also won’t tell you I’m handsome, or witty. The ghosts of my ancestors would haunt me mercilessly if I did, and I’m a guy who needs his sleep.


1. As I’ve mentioned, I can’t get enough of Les McKeown‘s “The Synergist.” According to his construct, I used to be a cartoonishly-Visionary type of leader, which many entrepreneurs and CEOs are. I regret that he chose that term to describe the personality type; I try to think of it as “V” rather than “Visionary,” for the reasons I’ve outlined above. When you read it (and you must read it!), maybe you’ll choose to do the same. Just keep in mind, not every exuberant flake has vision.

2. Sam Fiorella has a terrific 12Most post on social media titles you might not want on your business card. It’s absolutely worth a read.



Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • BruceSallan1

    Wow, so right on. I chose to call myself a “layman expert” so as to qualify my expertise as being based on my own, specific life experiences vs. claiming bigger global expertise. Does that pass for you, TC? I’m serious in asking that ’cause I value your wisdom?

  • Britany_Wallace

    I’m pretty sure in all of my profiles I claim to be a student or learner of everything. I do not think I will call myself an expert in anything, unless the rest of the world does it first. That way, I will know that I am not feeding my ego, but in fact, letting the world tell me what they think! I do believe though, that some people use words like that to get attention, and you know what? It works. I investigate people like that and if they sound true to their word, I will continue to follow them, but I would not necessarily follow them if those words were not included in my first impression of them. Do you agree or disagree?

  • CompanyFounder

    Ted, it sounds as though our New England roots have left us with a similar perspective on many things, including a viscerally negative reaction to people calling themselves “visionary,” or “a visionary”. Self-congratulation by supposed visionaries is one example of many. Regardless of the angle taken, or the adjectives employed, it’s unbecoming (and unconvincing) for people to puff themselves up online. When they do it in-person, it’s even worse; at least online you can click a button and move away from their page. On the other side of the coin (pun completely unintended), it’s important to exude confidence. The good news for folks with a “crusty New Englander” background is that the ability and willingness to be self-effacing comes with a certain implicit confidence. At the end of the day, the best approach is to try to conduct oneself and add value in such a way that others throw the compliments your way and perhaps, as several of your readers do in the comments below, even call you a visionary.

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  • Peterborner


    You most certainly are visionary. In my world, visionaries are thought leaders. I have been reading your blog postings and following you on Twitter for a long time and can cite example after example where you have shown true thought leadership… Visionary with a capital V.


  • JesseLynStoner

    I’m with you, Ted. If someone calls themselves a visionary or a guru, chances are they aren’t. Labels aren’t very helpful unless you’re looking at a jar or can.

  • lesmckeown

    Thanks for the post – and the shout-out, Ted.

    The V-word is much overused, I agree. With regard to ‘The Synergist’, I personally don’t mind what labels are used – we can call them red green and blue – so long as I can help folks understand underlying leadership styles and how to interact with them.

    I also think you’re being a little disingenuous. I’ll bet you *are* a visionary :)

    Thanks again for your support of ‘The Synergist’, it means a lot to me. – Les

  • http://www.alankay.ca/ alankay1

    Ted, allow me to reframe your self-effacing New England puritanical honesty. You are actually prescient.

    Prescient leaders see things in the future that others can’t. Some may also be visionaries (Steve Jobs, etc.), but the key attribute is the ability to listen to people, make sense of what they say and match it to their own view of what’s coming.

    The Roman general usually had three spies – one near the enemy camp, one past the camp and one in the nearest town. Each came back with different stories and tried to persuade the general that they were right. The General had to make sense of their stories and project it into the future, i.e., the battle.

  • tedcoine

    @JesseLynStoner Wow, I’m going to borrow that label comment – thanks for adding to my magic bag of tricks!

  • http://westfallonline.com/ westfallonline

    The best labels are applied by others. I can’t even get my damn name tag to stay on my lapel at a networking event.

    I loved “The Synergist” and am on record as a huge fan of @lesmckeown . It’s interesting how the label of “visionary” can be used as either a self-proclaimed aspirational title…or an excuse for bad behavior.

    Actions speak louder than labels, and your accomplishments speak for themselves. And so do your insights, which showcase your skills as a leader and a.. well…uh…

    A person who sees the big picture. :-)

    And a terrific writer, too.

  • tedcoine

    @BruceSallan1 Layman expert – I love it! I’m a big fan of the oxymoron, at least when applied consciously. Bravo.

  • tedcoine

    @Peterborner Thank you Peter! It’s hard to tell from where you sit, but I’m blushing. I suppose my point was more along these lines: If I tell you how great I am, I’m an ass. If you do it, I’m flattered.

  • tedcoine

    @lesmckeown LOL – very kind of you, Les. And never fear: I gathered immediately that the particular terms you chose don’t matter at all, just the lesson behind them. You’ve given me a terrific paradigm (to lean on a hackneyed expression), and lent me clearer understanding as a result. Thank you!

  • tedcoine

    @Britany_Wallace Britany, I do agree with you. The thing is, this public self-love is so abundant, you’d have to cross a lot of truly important thinkers off your list if you judged them all by this alone. I guess it’s akin to the saying that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you – in this case, just because you shamelessly toot your own horn doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve tooting.

    To make matters worse, there are people out there who will believe you are exactly what you tell them. Act self-effacing, they’ll buy without reflection that you aren’t all that hot.

    I guess when everyone’s shouting, there’s a real temptation to shout as well, or else people won’t even notice you. It’s too bad, though.

  • tedcoine

    @alankay1 Alan, you, my friend, are an insightful man. I’m learning a lot from our interactions, and I’m grateful for them.

    Prescient: good arrow to add to my quiver. Again, though, I’ll let others call me prescient if they think it fits. To call myself that would embarrass me.

  • tedcoine

    @westfallonline @lesmckeown Thanks Chris! It absolutely takes one to know one, as this case illustrates.

    …And I have the same problem with my name tags. It’s a sure mark of brilliance.

  • JesseLynStoner

    @tedcoine You are most welcome to use that comment anytime. :-)

    I would also like to add that there’s a difference when someone else calls you a visionary and when someone decides to call themself one.

    I happen to agree with the many comments you have received noting your talents. I’m a huge fan of yours, Ted. What I love most is that you identify salient issues, cut to the chase and don’t mince words. I don’t think I’ll ever forget your post to CEOs on “Who’s Going to Tell You Your Baby’s Ugly.” (Notice – I described behaviors, didn’t label you.)

    The biggest reason I resist labels is because when we label ourselves, we define ourselves in ways that can lock us in to modes of behavior and expectations that limit our growth.

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