Visionaries Lost in Translation

Jun 1, 2015

By Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success

Visionary leaders have many fine strengths (just like Operator, Processor and Synergist leaders). Unfortunately, a clear, actionable communication style is not one of them.

Operating as they do from a 30,000-foot perspective; committed to bold, motivational action; and terrified by mediocrity (or even – to them – debilitating inaction), Visionaries have a vocabulary all of their own, one which operates alongside an inner monologue that often only they understand. So here, for your enlightenment, is an interpretation of the phrases that those working with Visionaries most commonly misinterpret.


The most common word out of any Visionary’s mouth, you’d think ‘Yes’ would require little interpretation. ‘Yes’ means ‘yes’, right?

Well, no. Given their usual upbeat, can-do attitude, for a Visionary, ‘Yes’ is simply a catch-all response to any inquiry (hence its ubiquity), meaning “I don’t see any reason why not. Yet. Check back with me when we actually have to decide on something.”

When you’re dealing with a Visionary, it’s important to prove out that ‘Yes’ along the road to implementation. And don’t be surprised if, just at the point you are ready to pull the trigger on that new product launch you thought you had a ‘Yes’ to, your Visionary boss then says ‘No’. It doesn’t mean that he or she was lying all along – it just means that that ‘Yes’ was simply a provisional placeholder until a serious decision had to be made.


In contrast to the malleable, catch-all nature of ‘Yes’, ‘No’ is a very hard word for Visionary leaders to utter. It’s against their nature to turn down any opportunity or to block any possibility of success – and so, when they say ‘No’, they mean it. So, when you hear ‘No’ from a Visionary, abrogate it at your peril.

“This is the single most important thing we will ever…”

Passionate. If there’s one word that defines Visionaries, it’s that. They do everything passionately. If something is worth their attention, it’s worth their all – and so, every new initiative, every new book, new method, new employee – they’re all “the best ever.”

Until they aren’t. The other side of the Visionary’s passion is their “squirrel syndrome” – just like Dug in Pixar’s ‘Up’, they can’t help but chase every squirrel they see, irrespective of what had their attention previously.

So, next time you hear your Visionary leader start a sentence with “This is the most important…”, in your head, just append the words “…for now.” And wait for the next squirrel to come along.

“Why don’t we…”

“We” has an interesting connotation in the mind of the Visionary. To them, “Why don’t we do…[x]” actually means “I have this great idea. Why don’t I describe it to you and you can go off and implement it.” Simply put, a Visionary’s “We” is shorthand for a division of labor: I think and describe; you understand and do.

“Let’s meet to talk about…”

Visionaries have a plastic concept of time. Time is merely an inconvenience that gets in the way of seeing their ideas become reality. (You may have noticed the Visionary tendency to expect an idea they have in the morning to have been implemented by that afternoon, even if it is a two-year construction project.)

One side effect of their view of the plasticity of time is that things like appointments, scheduled meetings or phone calls – anything that is written down at a specific time in a calendar – is entirely fungible. If you’re working for or with a Visionary, one of the biggest stressors you will face is to find just about every appointment rescheduled, started late, or, worst of all, entirely ignored and supplanted by the next incoming squirrel.

The lesson? If you’re working with a Visionary leader, start building your own glossary of what their most common phrases and utterances really mean. It will make your interaction considerably less stressful.