Women and Visionary Leadership

by Apr 23, 2016

Visionary leadership – is just about being effective

visionary leadership 2

In Women and the Vision Thing by Herminia Ibarra and Otilia Obodaru Harvard women score better than men on all leadership components except “evisioning.”   That is  defined as “the ability to recognize new opportunities and trends in the environment and to develop a new strategic direction for an enterprise.”  We also know that women are judged more harshly in performance evaluations for being too hard or too soft.  But what does this notion of visionary leadership really mean?

The conclusion drawn by Herminia Ibarra on reduced levels of “envisioning” was based on 360 ratings by peers of the female research subjects.  Anne Perschel is less confident about the exclusive use of peer ratings which “tend to be lower than those of other rater groups, including managers and direct reports.” She recommends the use of the Emotional Competence Inventory, a recognized 360 assessment,  which adjusts the weight of peer group scores.

Sweeping statements traps

I am reluctant to use globalization terms starting “Women are ….. ”  It’s too broad brush and assumes that all women are the same. We are not. Some women are logical and linear. Some are not. On an anecdotal basis I have observed many successful women who are visionary in their thinking.  I have also observed a high number of women who are not. These have tended to be more junior. [Tweet “This implies visionary leadership can be an acquired skill and learned.”]

One of the areas that both saves and holds women back, is perhaps a more conservative attitude to risk and a slowness to see the bigger picture and tie it in with business numbers, especially at a lower level. I have seen women spend hours of collective time trying to save a few hundred dollars, not realizing that they spend more than they saved, in opportunity cost, in the economizing process.

Yet this slower and more thoughtful approach can help to minimize risk, as assessments  tend to be more thorough and consultative.

According to Ellen F. Weber, PhD, Director of MITA International Brain Based the structural differences in between the male and female brain means they have different approaches. Women’s thinking is a more integrated process while men take a linear, and what appears to be a more logical approach.

Two key omissions around visionary leadership

When people discuss visionary leadership, they rule out two key elements.

Omission #1 Vision is incremental

Visionary leadership

Visionary leadership Adapted from the Vision Thing by Herminia Ibarra and Otilia Obodaru HBR

When Mark Zuckerberg thought up The Facebook in his dorm room to evaluate “hot or not”, did he really envision the scope of Facebook as it is today?  What did Sara Blakely envision when she looked for pantyhose that fitted properly that eventually became a sought after under garment called Spanx? Very often they are not about a single eureka moment, but a lot of hard work and collaborative evolutionary effort and energy, over a long period of time.

Omission #2 Vision needs to be effective

For vision to be effective, it has to be actionable. Visionary leadership and effective leadership are almost interchangeable and co-dependent. You can’t have one without the other.  Many people have had visions for business success but have failed. One of the hallmarks of a successful business leader (male) is coping with failure. Yet we are less willing to be so lenient with failed women leaders. Shall we see what happens to Marissa Mayer of Yahoo in the next 6 months? Is this why we bring women up to the edge of the glass cliff? Read: The Glass Cliff: Female leaders in Time of Crisis

Mark Lipton in Walking the Talk (Really) Why Visions Fail suggests that vision is about finding the balance between believing and doing and engaging others in that objective.  He observes that visionary leaders:

“articulate it (sic the vision) to themselves and to others. They were willing to face the reality that, if the vision process at their organization stalled, it was perhaps because they succumbed to a form of inertia.  And, most important, they were willing to be true to their own values and refrain from placing blame for inaction on some institutional imperative. They explored the vision not dispassionately from the outside, but with a full-range view of how they thought and felt about that distant future and what would be required of them to implement it.”

So visionary leadership is about belief in self and others and communicating that energy to lead effectively. There is no reason why women can’t do this successfully.

If you would like to find and develop visionary women for your organisation, contact 3Plus




Staff Writer: Career Contributor
3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Job Search, Career and Mentoring or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

Found that interesting?
Learn more about our services

Individual services

Make your dreams a reality with a professional evaluation of your career to date.

Corporate services

The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)

Upcoming events



📢New Programme available with 3Plus International

“If you have a brain you have a bias” and nowhere is this more apparent than in our hiring processes.

The ‘How to Mitigate Bias in the Recruitment Process’ programme is designed to convey the serious nature of bias in the recruitment process with a focus on gender bias and the way it impacts both businesses and organisations, but in a way that is thought-provoking and engaging.



Full programme details HERE

Dates for the Diary

10th June 2022 - Recession Proofing Your Recruitment Career with Brainfood Live On Air REGISTER HERE


Check out our exciting portfolio of offerings to support your business in upskilling and competence building for your teams, to address the unprecedented challenges that women face in this new totally digital world.


best job search


3Plus Online Learning Programs 





Download and listen free podcasts

Related articles

How to be S.U.R.E about unconscious bias

How to be S.U.R.E about unconscious bias

  Be S.U.R.E about unconscious bias When discussing unconscious bias normalise it, we all have biases. Here are the steps on how to be S.U.R.E about unconscious bias   One of the most important things to do when discussing unconscious bias is to normalise...

read more
Value of vacation jobs

Value of vacation jobs

The value of vacation jobs, what they taught you, and how the foundations of your professional life could have been laid.

read more