How to ‘up manage’ a visionary boss

26 November 2015 -


Visionary leaders are often the driving force behind some of the world’s most successful businesses. But when innovation is left unchecked, things can easily spiral out of control…

Jermaine Haughton

Inspirational, quirky and full ideas. Whether it was a young Mark Zuckerberg who claimed his emerging social network Facebook would “connect the world” or LinkedIn chief executive Jeff Weiner building his business based on the aim of developing the “world's first economic graph," visionary leaders have repeatedly shown with great success how futuristic ideas and concepts can be brought to life and change the world.

The combined impact of globalisation, the ongoing digital revolution, the opening up of new sectors and changing consumer behaviour in the past two decades has led to an increasingly competitive working environment. Therefore, many organisations need more than simply good quality products to grow and maintain revenue, they need to stand out.

And it is here that visionary innovation comes to the fore: research by PwC found that chief executives identify innovation as the most important factor for the growth of their company.

Visionary managers encourage creative and abstract thinking from employees, by embracing new ideas and processes aimed at staying ahead of the industry norm. 

But while the skill to understand the bigger picture is important, being able to translate that vision to your workforce successfully is equally vital. The constant flow of ideas from visionaries is of no use unless strong and robust management procedures and processes underpin it.

When Kathleen Davies started working in advertising three years ago, she found it frustrating and confusing how her team leader was constantly thinking up new concepts, without a practical plan of action.

“Initially it was really exciting to work for someone who is always coming up with wacky and cool ideas,” she said. “But after a while it became quite annoying how our boss would repeatedly move from idea to idea, without a moment’s notice.

“It eventually became very tiresome, especially as we were the ones who had to try and implement the ideas. There was no solid direction.”

By moving from idea to idea, or project to project, workers can become increasingly stressed, spreading their attention across a number of different moving parts, and leaving themselves in danger of failing to complete them in time, or to the quality required.

Business and management expert Annmarie Neal proposes that there are very few visionary leaders that are able to make good managers, and vice-versa, because of a contradiction in styles.

“Planning to the nth degree bothers really good leaders,” Neal told Forbes. “They’re trying to figure out opportunities – what’s at the edge, the adjacencies, the disruptive space three to four steps away.

“They’re making social and political connections, and that uses a different part of the brain.”

Neal added that top managers may be too detail-oriented to thrive as big picture thinkers. She said: “It can be a hard transition for a really good manager to let go of those controls.”

Therefore, one of the key ways employees can “up manage” their visionary boss is to help provide the structure that he or she is missing. By agreeing with their manager and team to create a particular format, time and forum to discuss ideas and concepts, employees can encourage their free-thinking bosses to keep their divergent thoughts to themselves for a bit longer, providing more time to think about it and avoid causing distractions during current projects.

Secondly, employees can urge their colleagues to submit all ideas alongside a rough guide of how the vision can be achieved through smaller executable steps. During this process, your boss may shelve the idea but, if not, having a formatted system can save time in putting the new concept into action.

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