The Surprising Truth About Visionary Leaders
Listen to Episode 123:
Episode 123 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated – enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of success. On the web at businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and right across from me as always is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. As always, it’s great to join you for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper®, and − as always, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to accelerate themselves and their companies to the next level of growth and success.
Now, Pam, we talk about visionary leaders all the time, and we work with visionary leaders who are focused on being the disrupters and not the disrupted. But you know, this thing about being a visionary can really be a bit of a double-edged sword.
Pam Harper: It’s true. It’s common to lump visionaries into one of two camps. Either they’re the mystical visionaries like say, Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos-
Scott Harper: So rare and magical…
Pam Harper: That’s right − or they’re the visionary who’s out of touch with the day-to-day; they’re so focused on the future and frequently incomprehensible to employees and others. Now, that’s the stereotype, and unfortunately, like many stereotypes, there’s just enough truth at times that, unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who don’t want to be known as visionaries. They’re “transformative.” The transformative leader, or…
Scott Harper: Forward-thinking leaders.
Pam Harper: Forward-thinking leaders, right.
Scott Harper: But the fact is, look − anybody who sees the future as breaking free of the status quo, and who wants to reinvent and reimagine the now to create a more powerful then – a new future − come on. They’re a visionary.
Pam Harper: That’s right. The surprising truth is there are many more successful visionary leaders than you would imagine. The key to being a successful visionary leader is their ability to successfully navigate the many paradoxes that exist when they’re innovating, transforming, and growing.
Scott Harper: Right. We were, in fact, just talking about an example of this from your own experience.
Pam Harper: Here’s the story: I was meeting with a visionary CEO of a highly successful mid-market company of about 100 million in revenues. He was telling me all about his vision and all the things that were going to need to take place in order for it to take happen. He had it down; it was quite interesting. But when we got to why I was meeting with him, he said, “Here’s the thing. We’re having our best year ever, and the morale here is odd. It’s low. I don’t understand it.”
Scott Harper: That’s getting in the way of making the vision come to life.
Pam Harper: That’s right. He said, “If, in fact, I cannot figure this out quickly, what’s going to happen is we’re not going to be able to achieve the goals that we need to have accomplished. And that threatens the entire vision.”
Scott Harper: Wow.
Pam Harper: There was a lot that was riding on accomplishing this goal − Revenues, reputation… It was a big project.
Scott Harper: He had a really big idea of where he wanted to go, and they weren’t getting there as well as they needed to. So what happened?
Pam Harper: I looked at what had already been done. They’d done a survey, and there were some pieces of information that came in, but it was incomplete, and when I went throughout the company and I started talking with some of the key players, I started seeing a pattern. There was a theme that emerged, and it fell within what we call “the visionary’s paradox”: in a nutshell, the bolder the vision, the greater its promise, and the more resistance you’ll get from stakeholders who either don’t understand the vision or don’t agree with it.
Scott Harper: It’s very important for us to take a moment and reflect on this concept of paradox. Why was looking at that situation in the context of paradox so important?
Pam Harper: Well, it reminded me of the two competing truths that are always present; it’s a balancing act, really. In order to move forward, especially into the unknown, there has to be a balance.
Scott Harper: This isn’t like complicated problems in math or physics or science or engineering like I used to face before I joined you. Those have definable solutions, no matter how complicated the problem. Here, we’re dealing with complexity. There’s no real answer that is once and done. The paradoxes are always there, especially when you’re out there growing and exploring the unknown. These are rooted in the competition between equally valid truths in a constantly changing environment.
Pam Harper: That’s right. In fact, in this story, the executives in the company had already addressed the morale problem, if you want to call it that. Seen as a navigating issue though, it wouldn’t be unexpected. You would expect that the bold vision would have triggered some level of that resistance. You can see it makes it a little bit easier and faster to understand what could be going on − anticipate the potential issues, and then…
Scott Harper: Yeah, anticipating is really a key point here.
Pam Harper: That’s right, and doing more to encourage the outcomes that you want to see.
Scott Harper: Given that, how do we start to navigate through these paradoxes?
Pam Harper: You need to understand the dynamics that are inherent in these paradoxes that surround us. Again, in this particular story, understanding the dynamics − the human dynamics that were playing out all around − helped this CEO to make the decisions that led to some very successful outcomes.
Now, this isn’t an isolated case. Many successful visionaries that we’ve either worked with, spoken with, or studied are successful at business innovation and strategic growth precisely because they’ve been able to navigate the paradoxes, in fact, often without explicitly realizing that they’re doing it.
Scott Harper: That’s a trick…
Pam Harper: The advantage of demystifying − which is what we’re doing in this episode − is that it’s easier to sustain success by being mindful of these dynamics, especially when you’re in unknown territory.
Scott Harper: That really is worth going into deeper. We’re going to first take a quick break, and when we come back, we’ll talk more about the human dynamics behind the visionary’s paradox and how to navigate it. Stay with us…
You’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We’re on the web at businessadvance.com. We enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of innovation and growth, and if you like what you’re hearing, spread the good word. Go to growthignitersradio.com, select episode 123, and use the social share links on the left side to the page to tell your social media communities all about us.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper.
In the first segment, Scott and I discussed the surprising truth about visionary leaders, which is that there are many more successful visionary leaders out there than many people think. Now, this is whether or not they call themselves visionaries, and a large part of their success comes from their ability to navigate through a host of paradoxes. Demystifying how to do this depends on understanding the human dynamics that are embedded within any paradox, and this is especially true when you get to those that have to do with business innovation and growth.
Today, we’re pulling back the curtain on what we call the visionary’s paradox. In short, the story was that a visionary CEO was mystified as to why the organization that he was leading was having a persistent morale problem, and that was what he called it despite many attempts to address it. It would be somewhat corrected, and then it returned.
Scott Harper: It was very recalcitrant to a complete solution…
Pam Harper: Yes. It turned out to be due in large part to what we ended up calling the visionary’s paradox. Scott, you’ve been doing some research that can shed some light on why this paradox exists.
Scott Harper: Sure. As you know, I’ve been doing a lot of studying and digging into the neuroscience behind cognitive biases. These are the mental filters that can lead virtually anyone, no matter how smart they are, to reach conclusions that are not necessarily aligned with actual facts.
Now, in the case of the visionary’s paradox, it appears that one of the two biggest factors that contribute to it is a cognitive bias is that we call “the curse of vision.” Now, this is the fact that the person who has the vision − the visionary leader − especially, when it’s bold and taking us into undiscovered territory, they can easily underestimate the extent of which other people that are essential to making that vision come to life don’t share the understanding of it. They don’t necessarily live in the same place.
Pam Harper: The dots are not being connected here…
Scott Harper: Right. there’s a disconnect.
Pam Harper: How does the visionary leader come up with this bold vision?
Scott Harper: The disconnect is driven by the fact that the visionary has what we call cumulative thinking.
Pam Harper: Cumulative thinking?…
Scott Harper: Cumulative thinking. This is the combination of all the experiences and the knowledge, belief, and training that are integrated together. This gives them a unique perspective that makes it very easy for them to understand the vision.
Pam Harper: Let me get this straight. It’s largely intuitive − for instance, I may go to a seminar or take university classes. I am surrounded by all these things that I…
Scott Harper: You’ve got lots and lots of experience, and it all adds together. But you’re not necessarily verbalizing it, even to yourself.
Pam Harper: You know what’s interesting? In this case, the CEO actually had gone to an executive education forum, and he was talking about some of the things that he found very inspirational and exciting that he wanted to base his vision on, so what you’re saying makes a lot of sense.
Scott Harper: The thing you just said − it’s important. He went to this conference. He brought back this feeling that they should integrate these things into the company. Other people were in the dark. They didn’t share that experience, so they couldn’t necessarily connect the dots, and so even though the vision was very compelling and valid to the CEO, and was actually valuable to the company and would move it forward, other people didn’t get it. And if you don’t get something, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to support it.
Pam Harper: That’s right. You really have to focus on connecting the dots − the logic that takes people from where you are and takes them to where they are and connects those pieces, at least logically.
This is exactly what was happening in the story that I was talking about in the first segment where there was this CEO with an amazing vision, and he was getting a lot of pushback from people who weren’t obviously saying “no,” but they were expressing it in the form of low morale.
What we discovered is that people truly did not understand what was happening in the company. They actually thought that all of the comings and goings of people, a lot of decisions that were being made were signaling that the company might actually be going under, that they would be losing business.
Scott Harper: A complete disconnect of perspectives.
Pam Harper: Because they didn’t know what the vision was; they just didn’t know how everything that was going on added up to taking the company from where they were to where they were going to be. The good news in this story is when the CEO helped people in the organization to understand where everything was going and connect those dots, many people said, “Oh, I get it,” and they were able to take appropriate action.
Scott Harper: Addressing the curse of vision for this company definitely helped.
Pam Harper: Yes. But it wasn’t enough.
Scott Harper: There was more to the visionary’s dilemma that the CEO was facing…
Pam Harper: Remember that I said that many people said, “Oh, I get it,” and they started taking appropriate action? In fact, there were some people who weren’t able to get on board with the vision.
Scott Harper: Even though they understood where the vision was coming from and where it was going to?
Pam Harper: That’s right, because everybody has differences in values and beliefs and needs, and all of it has to line up. It’s one thing for me as the visionary leader to say, “This is my purpose, and here is my vision,” but not everybody’s going to just naturally be on board, even when they understand.
In this case, it led to the growth of what we call “elephants in the room.” These are the situations where people don’t want to talk about what’s going on. Everybody had a sense that there was something wrong, and no one wanted to talk about it. That was another reason behind the mysterious morale problem.
Scott Harper: That makes sense. How is that addressed?
Pam Harper: In this case, we decided that the best way to handle something like this was to surface the issue. People have to face it head-on. It was done through a series of discussions in groups and with individuals, and we put it right out in front and said, “People are here for all kinds of reasons. This is where we’re going, and this is why we’re going here, and you each have to make your own decisions about whether or not you want to be here. But if you’re going to be here, be here and participate and get engaged.”
When people understood that it was their decision to make and that they weren’t being coerced, then most everyone decided that they were on board and they were going to be committed. It was a turning point for the company. They were able to keep on doing what they needed to do to live into the vision and the purpose of the company. They grew by several multiples and significantly increased the company’s value.
Scott Harper: Understanding what was happening in the company in the light of the visionary’s paradox allowed the CEO to bring his people together by helping them connect the dots and build commitment to the new vision, yes?
Pam Harper: Yes. The reason for looking at this in the frame of a paradox is that it provides context for what was going on. Remember that these paradoxes show up in every company very differently, so it’s not like there’s a label that’s going on. You have to look for it.
Scott Harper: No blinking sign. “This is a paradox.”
Pam Harper: No, no. The story is unique to this company at this particular point in time, and that’s always the way it is with a paradox. But when you have that framework firmly in mind, you can begin to say, “What’s happening?”
Scott Harper: Ah, okay, right, and you can also anticipate. If you think about the paradox as always this balance of two opposing truths, anytime you’re doing something new and different, especially if it’s bold, you can anticipate. You can say, “We’re going to do this,” or, “We want to do this.” How can we better ensure that we have the balance that’s necessary to achieve that vision?
Pam Harper: We have to be aware of the human dynamics, and that’s the value of looking at all of these things that we’ve been talking about in the framework of a paradox. That’s what we’re going to talk about in the next segment, but first, we’re going to take a quick break. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought you to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, on the web at businessadvance.com.
Pam Harper: Thanks for all your feedback on Growth Igniters Radio. One of the things we’ve learned is that some of you prefer to listen to podcasts and others prefer to read short, timely posts. So starting with our last podcast, we’re releasing a new Growth Igniters Radio episode every two weeks, and on alternating weeks, members of our community will receive a short, thought-provoking blog post. We’ll give our perspective on an emerging trend or a news item and how it could impact your company’s continued growth and success. We’ll also include a tip to help your company be the disrupter and not the disrupted.
Scott Harper: Join the Growth Igniters Community today, and as a special bonus, we’ll immediately send you one of our most popular Harper reports, “How To Take Control Of The Elephants In The Room,” something that we mentioned earlier in this episode. This is a major issue that can make or break growth and success, and every company has “elephants” − the things that everyone knows are going on, and no one wants to talk about.
Pam Harper: In the report, we discuss not only why these elephants exist, but how to stop them from derailing your company’s success. We also give you steps that you can immediately take to create the conversations that are critical to dramatically accelerate momentum.
Scott Harper: This special bonus report offer ends October 15th, 2017, so join the Growth Igniters Community today. Go to growthignitersradio.com, and click “sign up now.”
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the past two segments, Scott and I have been talking about the surprising truth about visionary leaders, which is that there are many more successful visionary leaders than many people would think.
Scott Harper: That’s right.
Pam Harper: We’ve also been talking about how the most successful visionary leaders are the ones who can navigate paradoxes, including something that we focused on this time called “the visionary’s paradox.”
Scott Harper: Right. So Pam, let’s take this third segment and get into some practical, actionable advice that people can use so they can more effectively navigate this visionary’s paradox and live into their vision and purpose to create a lasting legacy.
Pam Harper: The first piece of actionable advice is to make sure you’re taking into account all of the critical stakeholders that would impact or be impacted by your vision. Obviously, employees in an organization are critical, and many of us do that. Less common is to think about our reliance on vendors, strategic partners, and how the human dynamics that are involved impact whether or not we can actually get done the things that we care about getting done, and-
Scott Harper: Focusing on people who are not just on the payroll.
Pam Harper: That’s right. Think about the study that we conducted on strategic alliances a few years ago − what we saw was that, of course, everybody’s thinking about partners, but when it came to issues having to do with mutuality and trust, there were a lot of issues, and people were very candid with us. These were CEOs of companies of all sizes. We have a report that our listeners can download.
Scott Harper: We’ll put that in our resources section.
Pam Harper: We talk about mutuality on the one hand, but the actuality of it is sometimes very different. So actively reaching out to a variety of stakeholders, including those who are not on the payroll, is a critical piece of being able to successfully navigate the visionary’s paradox.
Scott Harper: Absolutely. What’s the second piece of advice?
Pam Harper: The second piece of actionable advice is to consider how you’re asking your questions, and really think about what you’re hearing in these conversations with various stakeholders. That’s not as easy as it sounds, because one of the things that happens is that we have a tendency to perhaps not always think that we want to hear what people say. In fact, that’s sometimes a very difficult thing to hear, especially if people are being critical.
Scott Harper: Another thing is that even if we want to hear from stakeholders that they don’t understand or that they don’t buy in to the vision, it’s really important to create a safe environment for those conversations so that people will be forthcoming. Because if they’re not, you’re driving in the dark.
Pam Harper: The report that we’re offering on taking control of the elephants in the room addresses some of these issues.
Scott Harper: Now, here’s a third piece of advice: Once you’re having these conversations and identifying the right people to have them with, sit with all of your stakeholders at various times to identify outcomes that would signal what should be happening to bring this vision to life really is happening.
Pam Harper: Scott, you have a favorite saying.
Scott Harper: I do, I do, and it is, “if you woke up tomorrow to a perfect world, how would you know it?”
Pam Harper: How would you know it?
Scott Harper: Well, you’d be identifying the things in advance that say, “Yes – to get to this vision, this would be happening, and this would be happening.” So often, we don’t really call out the critical success factors or the critical issues or things that need to occur to get to the things we’re actually wanting. If you don’t have things to measure against, signposts to say, “Yeah, you’re going in the right direction,” you could be drifting off course and to even know it.
Pam Harper: Well, many companies actually do have monitoring and metrics and that kind of thing, and I think the people who are listening probably do have that. What is especially important is to do the digging to find out when something is not happening the way it should is to take into account all of the possible reasons why that might be happening.
Scott Harper: Right, and that’s why considering dynamics and things that are going on in the company in the frame of the paradox is particularly useful for coming to those conclusions.
Pam Harper: And that takes us back to our story…
Scott Harper: Right. Pam, it’s been a great conversation. We’re coming up on the end of our episode. Do you have any final thoughts?
Pam Harper: As a matter of fact, I do. No matter what you call yourself, if you’re a leader who consistently challenges the status quo and seeks to redefine what’s possible for a better world, you are a visionary.
Scott Harper: All right.
Pam Harper: It’s a good thing, too. Framing issues that you face in terms of paradoxes helps to pull back the curtain on how you arrive at your visions and more consistently navigate the human dynamics that are necessary for success as you live into your vision and purpose.
Scott Harper: Great. Thanks, Pam, and thanks to you out there for listening Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversations, download the reports we mentioned, share on social media, read our bios, or open a conversation with us, go to growthignitersradio.com and select episode 123.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: … wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to discuss with your team:
Scott Harper: What do we need to do to increase our ability to successfully be aware of and navigate the visionary’s paradox?