What it Means to be a Visionary

Who would you call a “visionary?”  Who stands out in your mind?  For me, it’s people like Ghandi, Mandela and Martin Luther King.  People who took the long view and could see the future and who were so clear on their vision that it gave them the passion and commitment to take bold action in the present and to continue taking bold action no matter the circumstances.  These were people who were so clear on their vision that they were not derailed by a present that seemed to show their vision was not possible.  Because they saw the vision of their future so clearly, the present circumstances did not derail them.

I was speaking with a client recently who is the new head of a mid-sized organization.  He was brought into this position because the company was ready for new ideas.  The company wanted to make a change.  And he has vision.  He is very familiar with the workings of this company and this industry and he has some great ideas.

The Board of Directors was very excited to hire him.  He was excited to be given the opportunity.  He stepped in with high ideals and the backing of the board.

From day 1 he was met with resistance.  “That’s not how we do it around here,” they said.  “That’s going to cause problems,” they said.

Day after day, he brought his new ideas to management and time after time they resisted him.  “I could just fire them and clean house,” he said to me.  “But I don’t feel that is the solution.  They have the backing of the board just like I do.”

He expressed how very lonely it was to be in this position, between the board and management, working for change and being fought each step of the way.

“But you have implemented changes, have you not?” I asked.  “Well, yes, there was that one thing.”

“And others, right?”

“Well, yes; now that you mention it, I got that policy pushed through.”

“What does it mean to be a visionary?” I asked.

“It means you have a vision of a new future.”

“And in your vision, does everyone who has been with the company for 10 or more years just walk along with you into the change?”

He smiled.  “Hmmm; I guess I had thought they would.  I guess I had thought they would see things the way I do.”

“And how long did you think it would take to implement your vision?”

“Well,” he said, “I honestly believed it would be quicker and easier than it’s been.  I believed they would see how much these changes are needed and how much better our future would be.  I think I am starting to convince some of them, but it’s a very slow process.”

“How did Ghandi make change?” I asked.

“One step at a time.”

“And he never gave up.”

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

–Mahatma Gandhi

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