visionaries and capabilityOver the years there have been several—okay, many—instances in which there have been people doing business with a cheerful and/or blatant disregard for boundaries. These individuals cheerfully and often recklessly bound forward with the glee and optimism of an unknowing child or an overanxious puppy, pursuing first one shiny object and then the next flashy thing that catches their eye. Scattered behind them along the path is chaos and more chaos, people rushing to put into place the pieces promised and the structures needed to keep the shiny ball in the air and the flashy things going.

Sometimes these individuals have been eagerly focused on the future, the bold, brave new world they see out there—somewhere out there—and they have focused on selling that future, without any idea how or when it would really happen. Yet they speak of it so proudly and so realistically that many believed it was the here, the now or just around the corner.

Sometimes these individuals have seen opportunities as pretty flowers, and they’re the busy bees that must go from one flower to the next … and the next … and the next. Unfortunately, they have also expected that the garden would be tended by other worker bees, and that everyday activities would happen because the hive would make it happen, even when there were no other bees.

Sometimes there were individuals who believed. They believed in bigger dreams. They believed that simply meeting with people and talking about things was enough. Starting things made things happen, and if you started enough things something would eventually work. And they didn’t worry about the details of anything they started, since those would take care of themselves. Rules, regulations, accounting, taxes? All that “stuff” can be dealt with “later.”

The Investor Knows What?

As potential investors dealing with any of these individuals, it is often hard to know if you are hearing about a real, tangible, exciting opportunity from a visionary or if you are about to take a ride on the “I should’ve known better express.” How can you pick the legitimate opportunities from the ones that believe but won’t be able to deliver? One of the first tests: Does the person have a plan? An honest-to-goodness, written down, logically outlined, thoughtfully compiled and financially quantified plan for how this wonderful opportunity is going to become reality?

Clarity of Purpose and Action

Next, does this person not only have the vision, but glasses to see with? Can he/she clearly talk about what it is going to take to make the vision happen in the real world, with specific details about the kind of team, resources, actions, timing and funding Required? The opportunity doesn’t necessarily require the most credentialed leader. It doesn’t require the most brilliant CEO, but it must have a leader that will lead and one who will get out of the way when it’s time to let others get things done. Visionaries are incredible, necessary and valuable parts of the organization, but they can’t become obstacles to making things happen. They can’t get so blinded by the vision that they can’t see that things are not getting done. Visionaries need long term vision, short term vision, clear vision and 20/20 vision, so they don’t end up looking back saying “Wow; it’s really clear now where we went wrong.” Hindsight is always 20/20, but who wants to be examining failure and doing a post-mortem?

A Lesson from the Trenches

One entrepreneurial start-up was in the transition from research and development (R&D) to becoming commercial. It began building the production facilities to launch the manufacturing capability to produce the products it had been developing for years. The problem: The timeline kept slipping on the equipment it was also designing and developing to produce the products. Essentially the business was in R&D on the manufacturing process and equipment too. As the year went by, it continued to insist that it would hit the revenue projections for the year that had been making. As the year progressed without production facilities, the CFO required a reduction in the forecast from nearly $20 million in revenues to zero. An argument, an intense argument, arose between the CFO and the CEO over the elimination of the revenue projection. The CEO was a visionary; he could see that the company could achieve $20 million in revenues. The CFO was the realist. She could see no equipment, no production facilities and no orders for products—and no chance that the company could complete a production facility, get orders, and produce and ship the product in three months (the time remaining in the year). She reduced the forecast to zero. The CEO asked if she couldn’t see the vision. The response: “Yes, I see the vision. What I don’t see are the sales.”

Vision is Not Enough

What the CEO in the above example couldn’t or wouldn’t see is that no matter what the vision is, the bottom-line results come from executing the vision. You don’t get to book wishes. You book actual shipments of goods or delivered services.

Unfortunately this CEO never could grasp the difference between vision and reality. He went through two credentialed CFOs, then he decided it was better to have someone who would “see the vision” and not the reality. Unfortunately for investors in private companies, all too often the visionary is inspiring enough to get them to invest, but isn’t visionary enough to lead the organization to generate a return on the investment. Whether the visionary truly believes what he or she says or is delusional often seems to be a fine line for the people who get involved in the businesses they lead into the abyss. Delusion, con or simply too visionary to be running a business, the result is often the same: investors, employees and vendors lose.

So before you follow the vision, check to see how clearly visionaries are seeing and what else they bring to the table. Can they see beyond the vision to the actions and deliverables that are necessary to make it real? Can they deal with the real-world practicalities and lead or get out of the way? When things get tough, will the visionaries be ready to acknowledge the skill sets they may not have and go looking for them.

Inspired and Capable

When it comes to being entrepreneurial, it helps to be visionary. It keeps you motivated. It keeps you involved. It keeps you innovating. But hand in hand with vision comes capability. Whether you have it, acquire it, or develop it—go get it. Visionaries who are successful know this. True visionaries are inspired and capable of making things happen. True visionaries are known by the changes they have made—not just the talk they have talked, but the visions they have shared and the changes they have started.

Copyright ©2010 Lea A. Strickland

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