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Healthy Visionaries

If you want to create a high-growth company or transform a slow- or flat-growth organization into a category-dominating leader, you cannot manage this type of growth with an MBA-styled leader who wants to function like a strategic CFO by mainly cutting costs and managing profit and loss.

Companies looking to lead—to either invent or reset a category—need to study the phenomenon of healthy visionaries.

What makes legendary great leaders great? They share a sense of destiny. Staying plugged into this ardor of insight is their main task. They go to any length to hear the voice of their calling to ensure creative responses.

Whether by extroverted means—reading daily reports of numbers and trends, surrounding themselves with a fiercely debating and refining trusted team, or by engaging employees, shareholders, customers, and prospects in meaningful conversation—or by introverted ways such as taking a week a year as a reflective retreat, insisting on a rigorous exercise or meditation regimen, or by reading and journaling prodigiously, tuning into a realm of vision as an act of devotion and practice is key.

Through a mix of idiosyncratic means, such leaders embody a dynamic, do-what-it-takes inherent discipline to maintain this rarified field of vision, trusting that each step will be a move toward keeping them in tune. Another word for this quest for the perpetually authentic response is integrity.

Bad visionaries, those oddly charismatic magicians, see only what they want to see and deny and ignore the people, threats, and market forces that do not fit into their line of sight. These types of leaders too often also suffer from narcissistic personality disorder. This type of unhealthy visionary gives all visionaries a bad name, but unnecessarily so. As soon as the glitter falls off of their vision, they flee. Furthermore, their obvious lack of empathy for others makes dealing with them a chilling experience. Lastly, the most symptomatic sign of a bad visionary is how their life is built around defenses and denial rather than an open-hearted, life-long search for truth.

Healthy visionaries make everyone around them feel possibilities as if they are certainties. Although they may see patterns before they merge explicitly, they make those around them see the connections while inspiring a mission-like zeal. They also welcome the role of play and imagination in business. As Walt Disney, a healthy visionary, was fond of saying: “my imagination creates my reality.”

Here’s the take-away. This column recognizes some of the attributes of healthy visionaries. If you are on the board of an organization that hasn’t hit its numbers in years, perhaps you need a more visionary leader than a manager. Then, once the vision is in place, all of the managers can better perform their function. Healthy visionaries lead and lead with integrity. They are just wired that way.

Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of going Electric. Visit to learn more.

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