Visionaries – Are They the Best Choice for Leading a Family Company?

Visionaries – Are They the Best Choice for Leading a Family Company?
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We began this series by providing an overview of four types of leadership natures (Visionary, Starter, Grower, and Maintainer) and how matching someone’s nature to the life cycle of the family company is beneficial where succession is an issue. Let us dive more deeply into the first nature: The Visionary.

The Visionary

People and the media love visionary leaders and history is ripe with them. Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Steven Hawking, Bill Gates are all individuals we would consider to be Classic Visionaries: people whose innovative ideas were ripe for the time. But there are also Visionaries who cannot take their idea and make money from it. The distinction of those who can translate their vision into a marketable entity and those who can’t is important. This is especially true for members of family-run businesses.

In general, Visionaries are people who create new paradigms, visualize a need in the world, and create a product or service to solve a problem. Within contemporary companies, visionary employees or family members can translate these observations into an idea to meet a need or want.

Visionaries – Are They the Best Choice for Leading a Family Company?

The Classic Visionary

In the late 1990s, I worked with a Classic Visionary who changed the paradigm of how customers pay for long-distance telephone calling. Though he was a real estate agent, he discovered a way of making long distance calls based on flat rate fee, rather than per minute. This revolutionized the industry. The telecommunication company he built was sold within 10 years at a profit because he saw changes on the horizon due to aggressive growing competition.

Like all visionaries, the Classic Visionary can literally “see” solutions to trends, patterns and problems in their heads. The picture is formed and a solution created. They have the spirit, ability, personality, and business sense to convince others to jump on board.

The Visioner

The Visioner is someone who comes up with ideas and solutions, and may even hold many patents, but cannot translate these ideas into marketable products or services. They are individuals who may not have the business acumen, talent for selling ideas, or the personality. Walter Shaw is one such character – ever heard of him? He possessed 39 patents in the telecommunications industry from 1948 to 1984, which included call forwarding, conference calling, and speakerphones. Yet he died penniless and unknown.

A room full people with original ideas and solutions can be exciting, but don’t expect much to come of it unless at least one of them is a Classic Visionary. If you watch TV shows such as “Shark Tank”, “Dragon’s Den” or some other show where people try and convince investors to work with them, you see many Visioners in action. They don’t just need the money, what they also need is the support and systems from Starters and Growers.

Visionary Strengths

  • Creative solution makers
  • Passionate about their ideas
  • Focus on the big picture of a situation
  • Recognize trends before others do
  • High energy
  • Intuitive
  • Focused

Visionary Weaknesses

  • Inability to act on their ideas, including follow-through
  • May not fit the 9-5 workday model
  • Less likely to conform
  • Often too attached to their ideas – can’t let go
  • Impatient & Passionate – they think everyone else should be on side and ready to go

Whether discussing the Classic Visionary or Visioner, it is important to recognize their qualities:

A visionary in a family business, particularly if they are young, may not be heard by others who dismiss their high energy as excitable or naiveté. Consequently, he or she may go off and create their own business.

But if they remain, then here is what to do:

1. Provide a mentor or business coach to guide them and harness their creativity and energy.
2. Expose them to business knowledge and training to round them out.
3. Listen to their ideas and request a business plan presentation to the management group to challenge and make suggestions.

It is important to direct the Visionary’s energy towards application. Allow them to explore ideas, while challenging them to translate those ideas into business potential. This is the new blood every business dreams of, and it is part of the family bloodline.

Visionaries – Are They the Best Choice for Leading a Family Company?

Visionaries and the Business Cycle

Visionaries can play a role throughout all time phases of the business cycle: Start-Up, New Growth, or Turn Around. In all of these phases, it is about the Visionary’s ideas for new products, services or direction that will assist the company to move forward.

With the proper training and development of their leadership and business skills, the Visionary can run a family company, but it may also be necessary to surround them with people whose nature complements them, such as a Starter or Grower.


Read the rest of the Family Business Leadership Series: