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How a Visionary Is Like an Animated Dog

Your company needs an ideas person to succeed. But that might just require chasing a lot of squirrels.
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Hearing the phrase "visionary leader" calls to mind almost instantly Steve Jobs, and his particular breed of intimidatingly big-picture thinking.

But as Les McKeown sees it, the visionary is a much more common archetype--one that every company on a fast-growth trajectory needs in its leadership team. You could consider the visionary the "ideas person," within a company. "Here's the thing about visionaries. Visionaries are classic starters," McKeown told the Inc. 500 | 5000 conference in Washington, D.C., Friday. "They start stuff. They love putting things into motion."

The visionary type isn't all blue-sky thoughts and TED-talk-worthy ideas, though. McKeown, a serial entrepreneur, writer, and consultant, likened an attribute of the typical visionary personality to that of the Golden Retriever, Dug, in the Pixar animated film "Up."

“He always seems like he's really into what's going on and is on the adventure until...squirrel! Squirrel!” McKeown says, drawing laughs from the audience for his impression of the visionary getting easily distracted by a sparkly new idea.

“Every one of you who's a visionary here, you know what the folks back at the ranch are dreading? You coming back. Because they know it's going to be, 'squirrel squirrel, squirrel!'” he said. “They're thinking, 'Oh would you just shut up! We haven't finished your 17 squirrels from last month!'”

This cartoonish picture of a visionary leader is just a slice of McKeown's theory on the stages of a successful business's growth. The model, which he's dubbed “Predictable Success,” (here's his book of the same name), is based on his observations from spending his adult life up to age 35 founding and building companies. He says he developed the model by observing the ways leadership teams worked together--or failed to work together.

You can find all of McKeown's columns for Inc.com here.

IMAGE: justinlevy/Filckr
Last updated: Oct 11, 2013

CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.




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