How often have you launched an initiative or envisioned a new product only to have it fester for months or fail to meet its intended goals? We become a visionary arsonist. We often have great intentions, but sometimes our actions get in the way of making progress. Why? Because we unintentionally light fires that cause our visions to go up in flame.
As an entrepreneur and leader, I’ve learned the hard way that a life spent hustling on the cutting edge of innovation comes with risks. In each season of my 25+ year professional life, from combat veteran to management consultant to Fortune 50 C-suite executive to multi-industry CEO to entrepreneur, I have been faced with countless decisions that could impact my company’s life, the future of an initiative, and the achievement of the goals that inspired me to choose a purpose-driven life.
Everyday leaders make decisions that threaten to direct their attention away from their goals. Much like gasoline strewn about a house, they may seem to be harmless on their own. However, should an unexpected turn of events occur, the match may be lit, and the entire home destroyed! Suddenly, dreams and aspirations have gone up in smoke — with the entrepreneur wondering where they went wrong. This isn’t limited to only business leaders — anyone who is in a place of visionary leadership with goals can find themselves at the mercy of becoming a visionary arsonist.
The problem facing many entrepreneurs is that we often don’t realize that we have become a visionary arsonist until the fire has engulfed far too much. Whether losing focus due to external forces acting upon the business or misplaced confidence in one’s own ability to navigate change, visionary arsonists find themselves building empires of potential — only to burn them down as their own worst enemy.
This article is based on a recent episode of the Passion Struck Podcast where John R. Miles unpacks this topic on his momentum Friday inspirational series.
What Does It Mean to Become a Visionary Arsonist
As entrepreneurs, we crave speed, we desire a vision of disruption, and we long to do something that has never been done before. However, in our pursuit of these goals, we often become our own worst enemy. We take intentional and unintentional steps that undermine our own progress by thwarting the very success we long for.
The problem is that for many entrepreneurs and growth-minded individuals, the need for constant change becomes the main thing instead of the actual outcome we are trying to create. Our daily inputs can blow-up the very output we so desperately strive to create for those of us who are visionary personality styles.
We get caught up with the urge to build a bigger or better mousetrap, then miscommunicate it, or continuously change our minds. In essence, we arson our own dream and aspirations by making our efficacy secondary to the havoc we place on our organization and livelihood.
In the following sections, I will provide some specific examples of how a visionary arsonist may come about and the impact on realizing our dreams.
Why We are Playing With Fire By Becoming a Visionary Arsonist
Not only have I experienced the burn that can come from being near a visionary arsonist, but I have also found myself burning down my own initiatives. I can’t even begin to number the times I got in the way of progress by changing scope, delaying decisions, adding complexity, and changing directions.
Earlier in my career, I led all software and product development at Lowe’s home improvement. It was a big role in charge of thousands of onshore and offshore developers. I was an intrapreneur overseeing a team of talented and high-energy individuals passionate about integrating new software solutions across our stores, supply chain, and global corporate ecosystems.
Our goal? Unlock a truly frictionless customer experience to seamlessly blend the digital and physical worlds and increase company revenue with some of the industry’s most innovative software developments and significant data breakthroughs.
While we were busy pushing out quality products, we were consistently coming up against all-too-familiar obstacles: scope creep and scope change. Our business sponsors would often request updates and changes to solutions that impacted complex architecture on multiple platforms — resulting in constant software rewrites, updates, and revisions. Elements that could have been updated with a product already released to market were continually added incrementally, complicating our already complicated architecture.
The constant creep on the scope and altering the vision for our outcomes was threatening to keep us from achieving our goals — and letting our chief competitor speed past us as we continued to sabotage our own progress.
It wasn’t until a close friend, SVP of Strategy Scott Butterfield, told me the following statement that it began to click:
“You know, “we” are absolutely fantastic at delivering initiatives that, by the time they are finally completed, have become completely obsolete.”
It was true! The constant deviations in our path of inputs toward the outcome put us behind the ball to keep our initial vision in line with a quickly changing market. We found ourselves stuck in absolutes — completely unable to allow vision and possibility to guide our journey. Meanwhile, market expectations continued moving forward, and we lost the confidence of our stakeholders.
As we continued to change the scope, update our decision-making process, and make changes to our expectations at nearly every turn, we had lit a fire that would burn up our vision and eventually cause the initiative to not meet its long-term objective.
We Become Our Own Worst Saboteur
Many times we are our own worst saboteur. We worry about external enemies that threaten to derail our progress while never taking stock of how our own tendencies can be burning things up from within.
So how can one avoid becoming a visionary arsonist? What makes this so tricky is that — just like an arsonist that sneaks in at night and lights things ablaze — you often don’t recognize the problems until everything is up in smoke.
To be a visionary entrepreneur who leads without the risk of going up in flames, you must remain agile amid changes while steadfast in your goal. You must not only lead your team with a steadfast vision; you must ensure your daily outputs are aligned with this long-term vision.
During my Catalina Marketing tenure, I often heard people refer to our CEO as an “elevator leader.” In essence, he was viewed as weak and as someone whose vision was driven by the last person who caught him in the elevator on the way out of work. A directive, initiative, or goal birthed in the boardroom or by the senior leadership team would often be significantly altered or dismissed before he reached his car to go home that day. He sabotaged his own leadership, which caused mass confusion, resentment, and encouraged going around the chain of command.
When you operate in this way, you risk your company outcomes and your teams’ trust. Nobody wants to follow a leader whose commitments seem shaky at best and constantly changing because they lack the conviction to stand by their decisions. Instead, committed and dedicated teams will follow a leader who makes and stands by difficult decisions not waffle on them.
Stop Being a Visionary Arsonist & Focus On The Future
A lifetime of leadership and entrepreneurial experience has taught me a lot about the risks of becoming a visionary leader and a visionary arsonist.
The world of visionary leadership is a double-edged sword. This is easy to see, for example, with middle managers in almost any organization. These leaders play a prominent role in the success of a company. Why?
When middle managers are aligned with the top management’s strategic vision, their teams are aligned. That is because the entire team has a clear line of sight of how their job impacts the organization’s greater good. Outcomes play out as the widespread view of visionary leadership would suggest.
A great example of this is a representative in a customer care call center. If the company’s strategy is to offer phenomenal customer support, these representatives are on the front lines influencing that strategy. If they understand the importance of their job and how it connects to the company’s outcomes, and in turn, their individual success, they realize they can make a huge difference and impact the company’s success.
But, if they do not understand their role in the bigger picture, they often create a much different and negative outcome. That is likely because their boss and their boss’s boss were visionary arsonists. The root cause? When middle managers fail to engage in visionary leadership (by misaligning their personal vision and priorities with that of the organization), their teams’ performance is significantly misaligned. They put themselves and their personal agenda over the goals of the organization.
I have seen this happen time and time again across a myriad of companies and industries.
When you don’t keep the main thing the main thing, you increase the chances that you will fail.
Avoid the temptation to play with fire in your entrepreneurial pursuits. While you may love the thrill of the chase and the ability to change on a dime, the risks far outweigh the rewards when you take your eyes off your vision. Remain agile where necessary, and keep up the ability to engage an ever-evolving market with flexibility, but never take your eyes off your goal.
The good news is that the more we become aware of being a visionary arsonist, the less we’ll do it, and the more we’ll allow ourselves and our team to grow.
If you enjoyed this article, you can find more content like this on the Passion Struck ™ Podcast available wherever you listen to podcasts.
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