When I joined Microsoft in 1993 my decision to do so was stimulated by the picture I had from Bill Gates as a visionary leader. The company’s mission Bill Gates created at that time was “A computer on every desk and in every home”. It was an aspirational vision and motivating target for the scorecards. Would Microsoft be the same company today if the mission would never have existed and Bill Gates visions would have not influenced the product and research agenda in the way he did?
Most famous companies today are connected to visionaries: Apple with Steve Jobs, Amazon with Jeff Bezos, Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla with Elon Musk. Does this prove that only visionary leaders create truly successful and innovative companies? How many visionary leaders have failed to create successful and innovative companies? This is much harder to answer than the first question. We only know about success stories, failures do not get the same publicity.
The passion for a visionary value proposition
All of the above named leaders are not only visionaries from a product or services point of view. They are passionate about a value proposition for their customers. Bill Gates core value proposition was productivity gains, Steve Jobs was design and function, Jeff Bezos is price and customer service, Mark Zuckerberg is social sharing and Elon Musk is sustainable clean energy. The products are a means to an end and deliver the value proposition.
Employees in organizations need to understand the value proposition a leader wants to create. Innovation, to realize a value proposition, can occur everywhere in an organisations business model. Truly innovative organisations constantly challenge the status quo and look for different and better ways of achieving the vision.
A true visionary leader is able to view the organisation as an outsider. A fresh perspective allows the leader to forget about the existing customers and look at the entire world as the future market. A good example is Elon Musk with his broader perspective and the creation of multiple companies all supporting his true vision in a very different way.
Visionary companies: Do they need charismatic leaders?
Is your organisation blessed with such a leader? Most of you likely are not. This doesn’t mean you cannot work in a truly innovative company. IKEA revolutionized the furniture industry, Nespresso converted a commodity product into a lifestyle value proposition, Bosch redefined the power tools market and created a new customer segment when facing stiff competition from China. All of those companies don’t have the shining visionary leaders everybody knows. They have created an innovation culture driven by the people and allowed to experiment and explore. They are learning organisations looking at all components of the business model and allow different and diverse ideas to flourish.
A visionary leader does help but is not needed to create an innovative organisation. In some cases a visionary leaders may even hinder innovation as they predefine the path and limit the thinking of the team with the influence they have.
Grundig was a very successful company until 1980 with visionary leader and founder Max Grundig on the top of the organisation. They failed to stay relevant and declined dramatically as the founder of Grundig didn’t create a learning organisation and was relying too much on his past successful instincts.
Innovation can and has to start anywhere in the business model
True visionary leaders create business models that can flourish without them and establish a culture that encourages innovation in all aspects of the business. They empower their people to challenge the status quo and take calculated risks within a safe environment. To look for opportunities that break the rules of the traditional business and provide new ways for growth, fosters learning and encourages independent thinking. They embrace technology, allow experimentation and provide a framework and environment to innovate any aspect of the business model.