visionary leaders

Visionary Leaders: Getting Beyond Yourself

There is a dramatic difference between a self-centered, driven “leader” and a vision-centered, team leader. In this follow up to one of my most popular posts on visionary leaders, we take a deeper look at key differences in influencing others between an ego-driven motivation and a healthy place.

Here are some telltale signs of the difference:

Demands vs. Coaches

Coaching others takes more time and energy than merely demanding others follow your commands. Coaching requires building others confidence and skills to be able to grasp and accomplish the vision without continual oversight and micromanagement. Coaching is more involved and requires a high commitment. But in the end, this will allow a leader to hand-off a large part of accomplishing the vision, allowing them the ability to keep casting the vision instead of managing task accomplishment.

Demanding others merely complete a task ensures the self-centered “leader” is forever strapped with the stress of making sure their vision is accomplished.

Relies on Authority vs. Relies on Goodwill

A self-centered leader is heavy handed and will state their positional title, power to hire and fire. I’ve heard of one CEO who would walk in and berate her staff screaming, “Whose name is on the building? Who signs your (expletive) pay check? You’ll do what I say!” This leadership-by-fear guarantees employees won’t be invested, will see their role as nothing more than a job, and ultimately will put in minimal effort.

Visionary leaders build goodwill by developing friendly, helpful, or cooperative feelings and attitudes. The leader’s likeability is important in this endeavor but isn’t the only aspect. Visionary leaders must foster and fight for unity within the team, dealing with conflict and sharing their vision in a compelling way so the team’s buy-in is high.

Issues Ultimatums vs. Generates Enthusiasm

Leaders frame things. Information and data about progress toward the end goal is never presented in a vacuum. The self-centered leader tends to cast poorly, reflecting data as the end of the world, while placing ultimatums on whose head is going to roll if things don’t improve.

Visionary leaders can present the same bad news as an obstacle to be overcome by the team. A surmountable obstacle can actually build camaraderie within a team. This positive, can-do attitude is contagious. Soon team members will feel empowered to do their part to overcome any roadblock or obstacle.

Thinks I vs. Thinks We

It is dangerous for a leader to think primarily in terms of the effect of a decision on him or her. This plays out in many ways. Maybe the leader scheduled an after-hours meeting but then a personal event arises which conflicts with the meeting. A self-centered leader will quickly shift the meeting with little or no regard for those who have already adjusted their schedule.

Visionary leaders, on the other hand, think in terms of “we” and will sacrificially forgo the fun event for the betterment of the team.

Uses People vs. Develops People

A fundamental metric in any organization is the turnover rate. Some organizations are led by self-centered leaders who don’t mind the churn and burn of employees. They continually discount the real contributions others make and treat them as if they are easily replaceable.

visionary leaders

Another key indicator about a leader’s motives is how they handle someone leaving the organization. I have seen organizations where staff members who have served loyally for years are quietly ushered out the back door when they leave the company. Any vestige of their existence is quickly exculpated from the organization, and the self-centered leader is quick to say, “We’ll easily find someone better for that role.” This approach says to every other team member, “You are just a cog in the machine and if you leave we’ll easily replace you. You don’t really have much to offer us.”

Visionary leaders develop people. They are affected and saddened when a team member leaves the organization and acknowledges publically the contributions made. At the same time, visionary leaders love to see a team member succeed even if it means succeeding in a new organization. They truly want the best for the team members and realize a leader’s success is directly tied to their team.

Takes Credit vs. Gives Credit

A self-centered leader is typically insecure and often full of fear, fear of someone looking better and having the spotlight on them. We’ve all seen the humorous sketch where someone issues a great idea at the conference table. Then the boss takes credit as if it was his idea while everyone looks on, bewildered. While not so overt, this happens all the time in the business world.

If a visionary leader is driving a metaphorical car, he or she looks at themselves in the mirror when things go poorly. And when things go well she rolls down the window and shouts to the world about the team. A self-centered leader does the opposite.

Check your communication to see when you use “we” and when you use “I.” See how much you can change your language to use “we” the majority of the time.

Says “Go” vs. Says “Let’s Go”

A self-centered leader pushes the team forward into risk, while insulating herself from failure. They remain in the safety of the proverbial General’s tent while pushing the troops forward from the trenches into open warfare.

A visionary leader leads the charge, willing to go down with the team if things should go unfortunately bad. In WWII soldiers storming Normandy would fall on barbed wire when injured and allow the soldiers behind them to step on their backs and jump the barriers to make it farther up the beachhead. This is the essence of a true leader.



Karen Keller, Ph.D., CEO of Karen Keller International, Inc., is author and creator of the Keller Influence Indicator® (KII®). She is a clinical psychologist and Master Certified Coach specializing in influence and human behavior. Dr. Keller develops programs, materials and resources relating to the Art of Influence. Her latest influence report, SOCR®, incorporates a person’s Seven Influence Traits® as related to 5 Organizational Competencies. She is passionate at helping people and companies develop their influence potential and an influence culture. Dr. Keller speaks to groups around the globe about the impact of influence in business and relationships. Contact her at or

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