Visionary vs. Operational Leaders: Which is the Right Fit for Your Business?

It might surprise some and be common knowledge to others that there is more than one type of leadership style. One common distinction can be made between Visionary Leaders and Operational Leaders. Work history, resume, pre-employment tests and interviews all provide evidence of a candidate’s tendency toward Visionary or Operational leadership. It’s important to know the difference between these two styles when tasked with finding leaders for your organization so you hire the best fit for your needs. Read on as we distinguish each leadership style further and highlight the impacts each style can have on an organization.

What Defines a “Visionary” or “Operational” Leader?

Visionary leaders are driven by what an organization can become. They don’t get bogged down in details. They are “big picture people” who usher in new eras of innovation and development.

Operational leaders work to ensure that operations are both efficient and effective. This requires understanding a business’s goals and objectives and using that to run the business.

It’s important to understand the variety of leader you need before making a hire. Pre-employment assessments can help identify which kind of leader your potential hire is. Here are a few personality traits to watch for in the assessment report the next time you are evaluating candidates for leadership roles.

Visionary Leaders: 6 Key Qualities

Visionary leaders focus on change and moving a company forward exponentially rather than incrementally. They are comfortable with the volatility that comes with innovation. They view failure as part of the price for progressive change.

Leaders with vision must also be tough enough to challenge old ideas, press through company politics and deal with outside factors beyond their control. They must be resilient enough to shrug off these pressures and arrive fresh to fight another day.

Strategic Thinking
Visionary leaders must be able to rise above the fray, creating an image about how they want a company to look and having the foresight to create strategies to get there. They might not have all the details, but they see the big picture.

Communications Skills
Having a strategy and being willing to fight for a vision are part of the visionary leadership stew, but they are useless without the ability to sell the vision to others. With buy-in from others in the company, the visionary can begin to fill in his or her picture for the future.

Organizational Skills
Visionary leaders are the architects of the changes that bring their vision into reality. They must be expert organizers, capable of forming the team around them, putting together departments and operations that move the company toward their goal.

Focus and Enthusiasm
Leaders with a vision must be focused and enthusiastic. If they don’t stay true to the task and bring a positive, energetic attitude to vision, no one else will. None of the other necessary skills are enough to create change without commitment from the top.

Operational Leaders: 4 Key Qualities

Strong operational leaders are pragmatic and focused on path in front of them. They work within an organization’s existing climate, viewing existing systems and employees as valuable resources. They leverage these resources to effectively accomplish tasks. When working with their team, they present facts, provide honest feedback and listen to employee input.

Efficiency is a priority for operational leaders, so to that end, they keep their focus on well-defined goals at the department or division level and don’t allow themselves to become distracted by loosely-defined organizational goals. They are passionate about what they feel they their team can realistically achieve in an efficient way.

Focus on Quality
Employees follow their leader’s example in meeting quality standards. The pride instilled by a strong operational leader can help employees lock in better quality products and services than their competition.

Leadership Through Management
Healthy, motivated teams are the result of thoughtful leadership that boosts struggling team members and rewards those who excel. Operational leaders leverage their management teams to achieve that healthy balance, relying on them to communicate about staff performance, with the goal of creating consistency in operations.

For Best Results, Select the Best-Suited Leader for the Needs of the Role
The key to operational leadership roles is in knowing what drives the cash on both costs and revenues. It is also about knowing how the drivers of cost and revenue in one area of the business impact cash in other areas of the business. Simply put, operational leadership is about joining the dots through the company on how customer value accrues at each stage: R&D, purchasing, production, distribution, marketing and sales, administration and finance.

Regarding visionary leadership, the key is to be just the right amount of a visionary as a leader. Enough to shape a great vision and inspire people so that they can achieve more than they thought possible, but still not extreme enough to totally forget the short term and more tactical activities of the organization. They should look into the future, but never lose sight of where they currently are.

Specific skills are important in both leadership roles, but personality traits are at the core of how well-suited leaders are to fulfill their roles. Such traits can be easily be measured in pre-employment tests.  These traits are more enduring than individual skill sets and more predictive of a good fit.