Leadership styles rise and fall in popularity and consequence with the issues of the day, competitive influences, and evolving organizational priorities. There are the decisive, get-the-job-done-no-matter-what types, who charge forward and sometimes leave people feeling ignored, threatened or bewildered. Their opposites espouse a let’s-take-our-time-and-talk-about-our-feelings-on-this-change approach, sometimes losing the balance between morale-building and task completion. There are also the neck-deep-in-the-weeds types, who focus so much on detail that the bigger picture is lost. I once heard someone complain about this leadership style, declaring with exasperation, “Forest, trees, needles. They are always in the needles!”
Visionary leaders excite and inspire hard work as long as people share at least some of their enthusiasm and their vision is clearly articulated. By definition, visionary leaders think outside the confines of the current state, but they often have to wait for others to catch up. Patience and fortitude are required to bring visionary thinking to fruition, and these qualities may not be their strengths. They are the masters of the “What if?” scenario, generating multiple concepts to reach a novel ideal, but they are not always sure how to achieve it.
There is another kind of leader who can be a great asset to them: the innovative pragmatist. They’re usually found a few tiers down on the organizational chart as managers or team leads, and help visionary leaders achieve their goals by translating them into tangible, step-by-step results that lay tracks toward the new. Innovative pragmatists know how to maneuver effectively within the evolving current state and its sometimes scarce resources. They are creative and solutions-oriented, with the ability to motivate on-the-ground teams to support a changing corporate agenda. They find better ways of doing things through incremental improvements that form the longer journey.
Organizational change – especially the transformational kind – cannot happen overnight. It takes planning, design and execution, with many course corrections along the way. Innovative pragmatists are the human equivalent of GPS: they know how to navigate the daily challenges and continue moving forward, rerouting plans as necessary. They also engage others in determining how to get from point-A to point-B and all of the other milestones along the way, ensuring everyone has a vested interest in reaching the destination.
When innovative pragmatists ascend the corporate ladder, the momentum they create goes with them. Like their visionary leader colleagues, they are capable of imagining a better future state. Further, they know how to divine the path that leads from ‘here and now’ to ‘there and then.’ While they might not always captivate with the most glittery of ideas, they provide something no less inspirational: the strategic foresight that drives productivity and sustainable change.