Types of Visionary Leadership
The Fall of Xomba:A “big idea” is only the seed. Without proper planting, cultivating, and harvesting, the seed represents unfulfilled potential. Visionaries who turn ideas into gold understand this.
A seed requires fertile ground, labor, nutrients, water, sunlight and time before it becomes something of greater value. Neglect any of these inputs and the seed becomes nothing. Time and money can transform a seed of an idea, and the best visionaries respect this, but it is often not clear to entrepreneurs that capital and labor, invested over time, have an importance equal to or greater than the seed when valuing the enterprise.
A dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/visionary) gives us insight into the two basic types of “entrepreneurial visionary”. One type usually mans the helm of a startup well. One doesn’t, but can evolve into an able visionary once enlightened.
Visionary Definition #1: The Impractical Dreamer with Little Regard for What Is Actually Possible
Have you ever heard an entrepreneur say, “I don’t need a business plan. Bill Gates didn’t have one. Google didn’t use one…” or “If only someone would give me the funding I need, could figure out how to make this a billion dollar idea…” or “My idea is worth billions, so investors should recognize the potential and agree to my valuation.” We will refrain from attributing these statements to the people who made them as they are a composite of statements made by hundreds of entrepreneurs, and we know at least some of them have evolved beyond this kind of thinking.
Statements like these are huge red flags to investors and a sure way to turn them away. Statements like these also are fairly good predictors that the entrepreneur’s seed of a business idea will remain dormant and never move forward. They are also fairly common and a large contributor to the sad fact that more than half of all startups fail within five years. This type of visionary may be acceptable as part of a founding team, but can threaten the survival of a company if manning the helm of the organization.
The good news is that a visionary who only dreams of what the seed might become can evolve into a visionary who also acts on the dream.
Visionary Definition #2: A Creative Thinker with Unusual Powers of Foresight
The type of visionary you want is one who melds his or her big idea with action and disciplined process. They can articulate more than the abstract dream to the team, to investors and to the public. They can articulate how the seed will be cultivated into value and what actions must be taken. During the period of cultivation, they must apply the same visionary skills to adapt and pivot when necessary through creative thinking that guides the company through changes to the plan.
Example of a Southern California Visionary Entrepreneur Making a Difference While at the Helm
In southern California, an example of a good entrepreneurial visionary is Robert Reyes of Startup Circle (www.startupcircle.com) in San Diego. When Robert moved to the San Diego area, he wanted to network with other entrepreneurs in the area, but couldn’t find an ecosystem that provided what he wanted. Area universities had entrepreneurial studies programs and there was a renowned incubator set up to help some startups, but nothing that was broader for all entrepreneurs in the area. This prompted Robert to launch Startup Circle.
Robert’s vision was to create a local network where entrepreneurs could share and learn from each other. He began with a monthly meeting that included open networking, new member introductions and a featured speaker. The group grew to over 1,000 members with active attendance of 50 to 100 entrepreneurs at each monthly meeting.
Still, Robert felt that the group was not hitting its potential. His vision was to do more than create a social environment; he wanted to find ways to materially help startups in the San Diego region and make San Diego a hot place to start a new business and to champion an environment where trust was firmly woven into the fiber of the organization. Robert applied his leadership and creative thinking and evolved Startup Circle from just another Meetup group into a unique community. He partnered with the French-American Chamber of Commerce and the Swedish-American Chamber to connect the San Diego area startup scene internationally. He created a forum for local politicians to speak to and interact with small business owners during the monthly meetings, so that the political leaders understood the needs and goals of local small businesses and gave them a chance to share what the local government was doing to make San Diego a better environment for startups and small businesses.
For a region that has relied heavily on biotech, big telecom golf and the military for a lot of the economic growth, you’d think that startups were a natural byproduct. While many startup success stories have emerged from San Diego, the region is capable of so much more. With a visionary like Robert at the helm of Startup Circle, the needle is moving toward more business creation and job creation. Robert is making a difference in Southern California.
Another Example – ActSeed
My online incubator – ActSeed.com – has its roots in the Southern California startup ecosystem, too. While ActSeed maintains a national presence, its vision is that local business ecosystems benefit from national reach – that there are sources of capital, expertise and visibility available to local startups and a community like ActSeed is a way to connect these geographically fragmented resources.
Additionally, dreamers need ways of helping them become doers, so a large part of ActSeed’s value to entrepreneurs is their company profiling process that serves as a blueprint for any startup or new business idea to map their way from seed to harvest. Having the seed isn’t enough. Planting the seed is a good first step. Understanding what is required to cultivate the seed until it produces value is where the hard work really begins.
In summary, one type of entrepreneurial visionary spends his or her time wishing something were reality, while the other type spends his or her time willing something into reality. Almost everyone wants to be the “big idea guy”, but if you expect to man the helm through the early stages of your young company’s growth, make sure you are the right type of visionary. If not, find one to be your partner and continue to dream big while increasing your chances to realize the benefits of your dream.