Vision = “What” and Leadership = “How”

Visionary and Tactical Leadership

My own personal journey toward understanding various forms of leadership began many years ago. It began in a medium-sized church in Marietta, Georgia in 1983. I was 22 years of age and I was elected to the church board I was the youngest board member elected that year. 

Prior to that point, I had been an observer. And I had observed some incredible leaders. I would put my own father in that category. His leadership in many areas are an inspiration to me to this very day. But I have observed many different leaders in these past 35 years. I learned as much as I could from men like Bill Searcy, an entrepreneur and small business owner in the Atlanta metropolitan area. He owned a Firestone auto repair shop. I owned a piece of junk Chevy Celebrity that went through 4 sets of brakes in 2 and a half years. It was a “lemon” and I didn’t realize it. So, we were destined to spend time together. He taught me more about leadership than just about anyone else early in the early years of my leadership journey. I owe him, and some others like him, a great debt of gratitude.

I consider myself to be a keen observer. I am an observer of leaders. That kind of observation over the years has shown to me that there are two distinct skill sets that are common among those who would consider themselves to be leaders. There are those that “see” what needs to happen. And there are those who “make” it happen. My observation is that it is actually “vision” that provides the “what” or the goal and objective. But it is “leadership” that provides the “how” and the plan to execute the vision that has been laid out. Let’s consider for a moment those two skill sets.

Visionary Leader 

These leaders provide the “What.” They provide the big picture. A visionary is often unconstrained. This is especially true in some settings. I do a lot of work in church and ministry settings and there is a tendency to be unconstrained in our thinking. Please, do not see this as a theological statement. I am not going to debate the Omniscience of God. My intent here rather is to say that visions tend to be grand in their scale.

Visionary leaders often are happy to claim success for the vision if it comes to fruition.  But they do not take ownership of the failure of the accomplishing or achieving what is seen in the vision. It is easy to shift any blame to the followers for their lack of commitment to the vision rather than look at their own leadership or their plans to achieve the goal.

Many times visionary leaders are also great communicators. They are able to take the vision that is in their heart of mind and communicate it to their followers in such a way that they, the followers, “catch” the vision and begin to “own” it. Unfortunately, visionary leaders are not very often adept at devising a plan to see the vision come to fruition. That is where the second skill set comes into play.

Tactical Leader 

These leaders provide the “How.” A tactical leader may not have the creativity or the capacity to be the first one to catch the vision. But they are an “early adopter” of what they see or hear from a visionary leader.

These leaders are often viewed as being “second tier” leaders. Nothing can be farther from the truth. It is often the tactical leader who takes what has been communicated to them and turns it into actionable steps and creates a process for others to follow that will allow the organization to accomplish what the organization sees as their vision and their mission. Without the tactical leader, the vision will never be realized. And what good is a vision if it never comes to fruition?

What is the leadership lesson here?

The leadership lesson is that we need to be very clear in knowing our personal skill sets. And if we are visionary leaders, we need to surround ourselves with tactical leaders who can help us make the vision a reality in our organization. And if we are tactical leaders, we need to catch the vision of something big and be open to using our skills to support a visionary leader with whom we share foundational beliefs.

A word of caution to each leader

Visionary leaders, do not fall prey to the temptation that you and you alone own the vision. It was given to you to benefit someone other than yourself. Share it and bring as many others to the team as you can. Tactical leaders, be willing to jump in and use your skills to build something that you didn’t originate. Be patient with your visionary leader. They are wired differently than you.

What kind of leader are you? Are you a visionary leader? Are you a tactical leader? Do you consider yourself to be another type of leader? If so, what kind of leader are you? 


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I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.