New leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs, like some politicians, are visionaries. They are able to mobilize support for their agenda, gather people around them, get them on their side, and gain the traction necessary to move ahead. The challenge is execution. The capacities and characteristics that may allow them to mobilize initial support may not transfer well into leading for implementation and concrete results. The vision, hubris, and charisma that gained them a following may not work when translating words into strategy and tactics.
The voice, passion, and power of the new leader are essential when trying to initiate a new direction and new purpose. In fact, at the vision stage, ego is a necessity. Much of the legitimacy of initial ideas stems from belief that others have in the leader. Visionary leaders who focus only on themselves inadvertently stymie the transformation of their vision into reality. They become demoralizing tyrants, marginalizing those who could be key to their success.
The challenge for a visionary leader is to avoid the classical mistakes that emerge when focusing only on themselves:
1. You make more references to the past and future than to the present. Leaders who are in the throes of failing are dangerously sentimental. They may wax poetic about what came before and speak wistfully about what will come--that is, after the troublesome present is behind them. Failing leaders pull away from the reality of the moment and lose sight of what needs to be done now.
Solution: It is fine to use the past to accentuate the challenges of moving ahead, and to allude to the future as a source of inspiration, but you have to focus on the present.
2. You have an exaggerated sense of why you were chosen for this position. Do you think you were the only one with the experience/know-how/will to take the position? Do you think you were the only viable candidate, and frankly, your colleagues are losers, and of course none of them were up to the task?
Solution: This trait is particularly poisonous for someone reaching their first real leadership position, and it could prevent you from rising any higher. Remember that you aren't the only fish in the sea. You landed the opportunity, now it is time to keep your ego in check. Practice confident modesty.
3. You are obsessed with turf. As soon as your domain--your unit, your department, your team--is mapped out, are you constantly patrolling the perimeters, and making sure that the rest of the organization stays off your grass? Do you purposely shut down collaboration with other units?
Solution: Take a deep breath. Remember that turf is an artificial construct, and while more can be added to your plate, some can be scraped off and given to someone else. Do a good job with what you have, and don't be afraid of collaboration. It is good for the organization if wins can be scored all around.
4. You don't follow the "rules." In every organization, there are procedures and processes that must be followed from transaction processing, to hiring, to requisitions. Do you feel that your situation is so special or that you have the institutional backing that you can disregard protocol?
Solution: If you are a new leader in an organization, find out what the rules are before you start throwing your weight around. If you have been in the organization for a while, you should know the rules, but you should also know that no one is going to rewrite them just for you.
5. You see that your inner circle is drifting away. As a visionary, one of your strengths is establishing support of a core group of supporters. A failed visionary converts his or her supporters into "yes-people." If everyone agrees with you, you have changed your supporters into followers rather than making them partners. And partners are essential for implementation and execution.
Solution: Be aware. Make sure that everyone isn't agreeing with you because they are too scared to challenge you.
6. You find that delegation is becoming chaotic. A characteristic of good leaders is that they delegate. They know that they can't do everything, and that they need other people to accomplish their goals. It's a problem when leaders don't delegate enough--leaving team members to flounder without direction--or too much--expecting them to take the reins.
Solution: Delegate, but check in with others, and listen to their feedback and frustrations.
While leaders may gain initial support because of their ideas, charisma, and presence, when it comes to execution, they have to realize that it is no longer simply about them. The leadership challenge for implementation is for leaders to remain involved, but to become the backdrop of the story. By keeping these points in mind, you avoid the pitfalls of becoming the demoralizing tyrant, and give your ideas an opportunity to bear fruit. You can be a visionary leader who can execute.