Visionary Pragmatism: How to Survive Your Success

One of my least favorite sayings is, “No good deed goes unpunished.” But there’s some truth in it, especially when it comes to visionary leadership. Some leaders — MLK, for example, or Joan of Arc, as in this cartoon — get punished by a resistant culture for their success, for the gift they’ve brought through their courage and persistence.

Volckmann and Hill, International Leadership Review

Volckmann and Hill, Integral Leadership Review

Your vision may shape a church, a business or a nation. As you succeed, you’ll become visible — praised by those who see the value of your vision, and criticized by those who fear the change you’ve set in motion. So how do you survive the sometimes dangerous visibility of success? Here are three tools to turn potential martyrdom into marketability.

1. Be a shapeshifter — that is, play with the roles available to you to create healthy relationships and get the information you need to get buy-in and sustainable solutions to emergent challenges.

2. Be conscious of the leadership story you’re living! As you navigate the tensions of leadership, pay attention to the ways your past experiences and expectations shape your responses, and change the story when it’s not working! For example, if you feel like a hero, but you’re getting feedback that you’re arrogant — look at the kind of hero you believe you are, back off from the righteous fire of your mission, and change that story to embrace a little humility.

3. “Lean-in” and listen so you can translate your vision meeting by meeting, relationship by relationship, with access to your personal and professional networks, and a grounded sense of local and global knowledge to support you. There’s no better way to avoid isolation and its missteps than to connect deeply in leadership circles to support sustainable change.

There’s no need to be a visionary martyr!

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