Plenty has been written about visionary leadership over the years, but perhaps my favorite quote comes from 18th century Irish writer Jonathan Swift: "Vision is the art of seeing things invisible." As the CEO of a technology business, this is exactly how I encourage all of my teams to think -- anticipate what customers need before they know they need it. Figure out the solution before the problem exists. Be the first to uncover hidden possibilities.
A couple of months ago, my company WatchDox was positioned as "visionary" in the Magic Quadrant, an annual report from analyst firm Gartner that categorizes technology providers within specific market segments. Of course, I was pleased that Gartner recognized the completeness of WatchDox's vision -- a true testament to the forward-thinking approach of our team. But it also got me thinking: What is it, exactly, that makes a visionary visionary? Short of having a crystal ball, how can managers anticipate market possibilities and customer needs before they become obvious?
See customers as your window to the future.
At WatchDox, many of our product updates have resulted from customer conversations. By reaching out to customers, you gain insights about their pain points, desires and day-to-day experiences. Do this often. But never come right out and ask customers, "What do you want?" Instead, ask what's on their minds. Find out what's new at work. Figure out what's making them anxious. These types of conversations will help you identify the underlying challenges facing your customers so that you can begin to develop the solution -- well before customers can even articulate their needs.
Stay curious and informed.
Busy managers have a tendency to stay inside the walls of their organizations, often struggling to find the time to read industry blogs, network with peers, meet up with analysts or attend new and interesting events. Don't fall into this trap. While it may sometimes feel like an extracurricular activity, participating in industry conversations is truly essential for visionaries. Staying up-to-date and engaged gives you the opportunity to anticipate emerging trends -- and to challenge the status quo.
Don't be a dreamer.
While the concept of "vision" and "dream" are often linked, don't confuse the two. As opposed to dreamers, who often have big and lofty aspirations, visionaries maintain a laser-focus, and in doing so, have a much better shot of actually making their dreams come true. For WatchDox, part of our visionary positioning is the result of knowing what we excel at -- and never deviating from that path. We've put all of our marbles in the secure file-sharing basket, and it's paid off. Being focused doesn't mean that you can't adapt and evolve over time; it just means identifying what exactly you're committed to adapting and evolving.
Proactively embrace change.
Visionaries must balance their laser-focus with the ability to stay agile. While WatchDox has always been committed to helping enterprises securely share files, we have had to adapt our product -- quickly -- to keep up with the evolving needs of our customers and the ever-changing workplace. The trick here is to stay ahead of the curve. Don't sit around and wait for the market to transform before determining how to adapt to that change. Don't stay so focused on catering to your customers' current needs that you miss the signals about their future ones.
The practice of being visionary -- of seeing the invisible possibilities before others do -- is not easy. It requires a conscious shift in how you approach problems, how you talk to customers and how you run a business. But taking the time to look forward today will no doubt pay off in the future. With the workplace evolving at a rapid rate, it is the companies that can anticipate customers' needs before their competitors do that will be the leaders of tomorrow.