Why Visionary Leaders need a trusted Pragmatist as a number #2

Visionary leaders need a trusted adviser who can temper their zeal with a professionally applied dose of pragmatism.

You know the type. A new leader lands in post, fresh-faced and excited, recruited to their role as they have a grand Vision. They present a picture of the future that glows like sun drenched uplands beckoning us to make the climb. Their Vision is presented with such enthusiasm and zeal that the current issues landscape looks dull by comparison.

Visionary leaders have the capacity, personality, communication skills and single-minded focus that can blind them to the current, often brutal reality they walk into in their new role. Such leaders offer hope of a brighter future, which is a much needed attribute in leaders everywhere. Like nectar to the worker bees the sugar-rush they provide is addictive to behold. So, why is it they quickly stumble and are so surprised and disappointed when their visionary message meets with such resistance?

The strengths-weakness paradox has a lot to do with it. This is the proposition that our strengths are always situational dependent and can, if misapplied, easily tip into becoming our key weakness. Take confidence for example. Oft cited as a key attribute for any leader. However, when misapplied, (or more commonly over applied), it presents as arrogance. How many leaders have you heard recently saying they are “learning to listen” as their visionary proclamations backfire and then blow-up in their faces?

Our current UK Prime Minister, (at the time of writing), is but one prime example!

The truth is we need visionaries and Game Changers at the helm of our organisations if we are to survive and grow. Leaders who can see beyond the current issues horizon and can craft a destination that appeals; one that motivates; and reminds us all that our lives can be better. Such leaders however need to possess the wisdom to have a very different trusted colleague as their number 2. Someone who keeps this visionary ability in check, and prevents it being misapplied and becoming a weakness.  

This is where the people with Strategist and Implementer proclivities begin to add real value. Interpreting the Vision, making it resonate with the current organisation, by applying a dose of pragmatism and sometimes reminding the visionary leader of the brutal reality faced by many people in their organisation. The skill such number 2’s need to show is to apply this tempering behaviour without extinguishing the flame of enthusiasm and passion that fuels the visionary leaders’ ability to deliver.

Too much pragmatism presents as doom and gloom, and can quickly take you down the road of very little needs to change. Too little and the big ideas get genetically rejected by the current DNA, (culture), of the organisation. This is why such number 2’s need to be trusted advisers, supporting the visionary leader with their aspirations, whilst at the same time tempering their enthusiasm so it lands with the correct and acceptable recognition of the current reality.

The number 2’s need to do this whilst still offering hope that the sunny future uplands are in reachable distance, otherwise demotivation and disbelief will take hold and chaos will reign. If this happens no one knows what to do. This results in organisational paralysis and excessive self-reflection.

 If left unchecked the visionary leader will be replaced and the selfish-gene that is the current organisational DNA survives, unchanged.

Knowing how to build a winning leadership team, one that is balanced and understands each other’s primary proclivities is often a missing jigsaw piece in many leadership teams. If you recognise any of these symptoms, then why not get in touch and we can see what we can do together.

Note, national governments need not apply. I know my limitations!