Debunking the Myth of the Visionary
A look at six traits of effective leadership that prove more encompassing to meet today’s needs – not among them, vision.
Steve Jobs. Elon Musk. Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg. Jeff Bezos. These current and historic CEOs are highly recognized for being the figureheads of the powerful organizations they founded (i.e., Apple, Tesla, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon).
Many believe the success of these companies is the direct result of a singular vision conceived and executed by these individuals. Some in leadership roles are all too happy to perpetuate this “myth of the visionary,” positioning themselves as revolutionary figures and the human embodiment of their businesses.
Others share my stance on the matter — founders and CEOs get far too much credit for their companies’ achievements.
The most effective leaders realize their limitations and have mastered the skill of soliciting perspectives from a broad network, channeling this input to continually refine and reinvent the business.
In the business world, vision is rarely (if ever) a singular concept — but an amalgamation of ideas and input from several key contributors. CEOs don’t have all the answers, and they don’t conceive strategies in a vacuum. The most effective leaders realize their limitations and have mastered the skill of soliciting perspectives from a broad network, channeling this input to continually refine and reinvent the business.
In my experience, both as a CEO and as an employee, the following 6 traits — not vision — are the hallmarks of an effective leader.
As author Daniel Weinberger states in his book Too Big to Know, “The smartest person in the room is the room itself.” Effective leaders are not only open to new insights and ideas — they seek them out, initiating conversations with leaders in related businesses and listening to teammates at every level. Shared experience and intelligence are crucial to building an organization that meets the varied and ever-changing needs of its customers.
Effective leaders use their interactions with others to establish a network of trusted partners and advisors they can continually consult for advice and direction. This includes external partners such as private equity firms, investment banks, and vendor partners. It also includes internal advisors such as other C-level executives and board members. Opportunities and ideas for business growth commonly emerge from these relationships.
For example, our partner network at Modivcare, which includes prominent health plans, helped us realize how the addition of supportive care services like personal care, remote patient monitoring, and meals to our solution suite could position our company to provide a more comprehensive offering to health plan members while also benefitting healthcare case managers and State governments. Internal advisors and stakeholders, such as our corporate development team, led the development and execution of a plan to recalibrate our corporate entity around this new vision.
Effective CEOs aren’t necessarily the greatest thinkers, strategists, or forecasters, but they are always flexible and responsive. Good leaders adjust quickly to new information, synthesizing the views of many into key directives and adapting the business vision and strategy accordingly. This is true even if new information leads the company down a different path than originally anticipated. Getting to ‘Plan B’ is not a sign of failure, but an essential milestone on the path to success.
4. Willingness to Act
Assimilating new information is key, but entrepreneurs can easily become inundated with data and succumb to analysis paralysis. There comes a time for action. Effective leaders are decisive, trusting their instincts, and comfortable with some level of uncertainty. A successful CEO isn’t afraid to take calculated risks when the potential rewards outweigh the drawbacks.
Furthermore, a resilient leader is willing to “Run to the Roar” by thoughtfully tackling primary issues facing the company even if the process is difficult or frightening.
5. Staying Humble
Inspirational leaders aren’t characterized by shameless self-promotion or self-aggrandizement. Instead, effective CEOs are humble instruments of the business — shaping themselves to the company rather than the company to themselves. True leaders walk the talk, setting the example for teammates. They also use their positions of leadership to benefit the organization, its customers, and its employees.
This is especially true during times of significant change. For example, effective CEOs not only make incoming employees from an acquisition feel welcome, but they also ensure these new team members are better positioned to succeed than they were prior to the merger.
For CEOs, shifting focus from functional expertise to interpersonal skills such as empathy and mentorship is a sound strategy to not only continue personal growth, but also prepare the next generation of CEOs to be effective leaders.
6. Commitment to Self-improvement
Finally, effective leaders never stop focusing on their personal and professional development. They are not only willing, but also motivated to learn new things and enhance their skill sets to ensure continued self-improvement. Just because a CEO has reached the perceived pinnacle of their career doesn’t mean they have achieved optimal effectiveness and impact. For CEOs, shifting focus from functional expertise to interpersonal skills such as empathy and mentorship is a sound strategy to not only continue personal growth, but also prepare the next generation of CEOs to be effective leaders.
History will always want to place certain founders and CEOs on a pedestal — exalting them as brilliant, once-in-a-lifetime visionaries that single-handedly changed the course of their respective industries. The truth is most often the exact opposite. Vision is a collective concept, and effective leadership is the result of successfully harnessing and targeting shared experience and insight to shape company strategy.
Modivcare won in the highly competitive category of Community Relations PR Campaign of the Year for its collaboration with Access Gallery, a Denver-based non-profit organization that empowers artists with disabilities.
Daniel E. Greenleaf is president and CEO of Modivcare, a technology-enabled healthcare services company that provides a platform of integrated supportive care solutions for public and private payors and their patients.
In June 2022, Dan was awarded The Alumni Citation Award from Denison University. The Alumni Citation is the highest honor bestowed upon a Denisonian, with criteria for selection including professional accomplishment, service to one’s local community and beyond, and service to Denison.
Modivcare recently won a Stevie® Award in the 20th Annual American Business Awards®. Modivcare won in the highly competitive category of Community Relations PR Campaign of the Year for its collaboration with Access Gallery, a Denver-based non-profit organization that empowers artists with disabilities.