Truly Visionary Leaders Have These 10 Characteristics in Common

Woman Wearing Gray Notch Lapel Suit Jacket

Adobe Stock / fizkes

Profile Picture
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
May 23, 2024 at 12:57AM UTC

There’s a leadership style that has been practiced or is currently being used by the likes of Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela, George Washington, Katharine Graham, John Rockefeller and many other important figures. While you may not agree with or support everything these people have done, there’s no doubt that their contributions have changed the world.

All these people are or were visionary leaders. Love them or hate them, they have been critical influences on society, and their visions have inspired countless others. Just what is this style of leadership, and what are the characteristics of a visionary leader?

What is visionary leadership?

Originally coined by Daniel Goleman, who researched emotional intelligence, the term “visionary leadership” applies to people who have often bold ideas about how the world and how various facets and functions of it should be. It’s possible to be a visionary without having a formal leadership role, but many visionaries do inspire others to follow their ideals and help them accomplish these goals. By definition, visionary leaders are not satisfied with the status quo and instead see better ways of doing things. They have a picture of what the future could look like and want to make it so.

Why is visionary leadership important?

Visionary leaders are not perfect; in fact, sometimes, their so-called visions are not practical. However, there is an important place for the leadership style

Visionary leadership causes change to occur, often bettering organizations, practices, people and even the world. And change must occur to keep society moving forward and evolving. Moreover, they inspire others to work toward a purpose and find meaning and purpose in their work, goals and ideals. These are the people who create new innovations and find solutions to problems, which the world needs. 

10 characteristics of a visionary leader.

There are numerous characteristics that an individual must possess in order to be a visionary leader. For example:

1. They’re innovative.

Creativity and, more to the point, the ability to innovate are important qualities in a visionary leader. This person has new ideas about how to solve problems and contribute to a better world, so it stands to reason that they must be able to think beyond the status quo. They also must be able to consider different ways of using the world and its resources.

2. They’re persistent.

Everybody encounters obstacles. A visionary must be able to power through them in pursuit of the larger goal of making the world a better place. Without persevering, an individual will get stuck and will be unable to accomplish what they initially set out to do. A visionary can’t spend too much time taking challenges and hiccups personally and or letting them hold them back from what they want to accomplish.

3. They’re willing to take risks.

Change can’t occur without a willingness to take risks. Sometimes, risks mean setbacks, but a visionary leader won’t let them stop her from pursuing goals. She must be willing to both think outside the box and take steps that aren’t guaranteed to pay off. However, that doesn’t mean the visionary is reckless — the risks she takes must be well-thought-out and reasoned.

4. They’re organized.

Organization is critical to a visionary leader’s success. They must be able to mobilize others, such as employees or followers, in an organized way to carry out their vision of how things should be. That’s because a visionary has mapped out a path to achieving her ideals rather than leaving them to chance. 

5. They’re enthusiastic.

Visionary leaders are nothing if not passionate about their cause. Not only must they have the drive to work toward their goals, but they also need to demonstrate enthusiasm in order to, in turn, rally support from others. 

6. They’re focused.

Focus is critical for achieving any mission. This type of leader won’t be sidetracked by distractions but will remain committed to their cause, sometimes to a fault. They must also ensure that their followers or employees remain focused on the end goal and don’t get distracted by less important issues as well.

7. They’re willing to listen to others.

While a visionary leader is focused on her passion and dream, that doesn’t mean she ignores input from others. In fact, this leader will take into account the opinions of others in order to better hone the path toward achieving the vision. Visionaries need to be able to collaborate and take advice where it comes, as well as rely on teamwork.

8. They have charisma.

These leaders must be able to inspire others, and that requires a certain personality type. These are the people who seem to draw others to them, and they are the most likely to carry out their visions because they are able to encourage others to believe in their dreams, too. That doesn’t mean that people without “big personalities” can’t be visionary leaders, but they still need to have the charm to draw people to them and their ideals.

9. They have a sense of responsibility.

While a visionary leader rallies others to support their dream, at the end of the day, they understand that they’re responsible for its success or failure. The setbacks of the team rest on their shoulders. Moreover, the leader must put safeguards in place for ensuring minimizing the risk of failure and ensuring that their followers are not shouldering too much of the burden.

10. They’re optimistic.

If a leader doesn’t believe in the mission they’re trying to achieve, how will they encourage others to work toward it? While visionary leaders are usually realistic, they’re also optimistic, believing that their vision can truly be realized. 


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

 Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.

What’s your no. 1 piece of leadership advice? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always