A popular approach for aspiring entrepreneurs these days seems to be to corner anyone who will listen with a pitch on their current “million dollar idea.” The initial monologue usually ends with the question, “How much money do you think this is worth?” In my humble opinion, ideas are a commodity and are really not worth much, outside the context of a visionary leader and a plan.
Over the past couple of decades, experts have perfected the art of brainstorming and other idea-generation techniques. Executives and investors are now increasingly exposed to a wealth of ideas. The result is that ideas are no longer in short supply and no longer a differentiator in competition.
Visionary leaders, on the other hand, are not so common. A visionary is someone who can make sense out of the wealth of ideas and weave together a plan for implementation that will make a difference in the world. Steve Jobs, for example, probably received millions of ideas from his friends, but he was able to focus a few of these into initiatives that showed real innovation.
What separates an idea person from a visionary leader? Most experts agree that a visionary leader not only has ideas, but also has a vision of where these ideas can lead, strong core values, key relationships and demonstrates innovative actions, as follows:
- Commitment to core values. Visionary leaders radiate a sense of energy, strong will and personal integrity. This usually results in a focus on multiple related ideas, leading to real innovation, rather than bouncing from one idea to the next, looking for the Holy Grail.
- Positive inspirational communication. People with vision usually start by communicating an inspirational picture of the future and then integrating individual innovative ideas into this fabric to show how to get there. The best ones can make the impossible look easy so that everyone, including investors, lines up to commit.
- Build strong relationships with strong people. Great relationships are key to every leader. They see people as their greatest asset and listen as well as talk. Theirs is not the autocratic style of leadership, which tells people what to do and dominates them, but a style which treats partners, investors and customers as family.
- Willing to take bold actions. These actions somehow always seem to embody a balance of rational (right brain) and intuitive (left brain) functions. Visionaries are often outside the box of conventional approaches and move toward long-term change and innovation. They are proactive rather than reactive and anticipate business changes.
- Radiate charisma. People with a real vision can communicate ideas with an almost spiritual charisma that energizes people around them to go a step beyond normal boundaries to solve a technical problem, sign on as a team member or invest resources when conventional wisdom would suggest otherwise.
Every investor wants to fund the true visionary leader, but the truth is that these people often don’t need funding or don’t ask for it. The best investor pitch, then, is to sell the vision with such conviction that people want to be a part of it with their money, their skills or whatever they can bring to the table.
But not every entrepreneur has to be a visionary. There is still plenty of room for incremental improvements and creativity in providing solutions to short-term problems. This is really the realm of bootstrapped startups and a small segment of the angel investor community that is looking for a quick hit with a quick return.
So my message to entrepreneurs is to tune your approach and your expectations accordingly. I’m always impressed with entrepreneurs who pitch how they plan to bootstrap an idea, but if you need a million dollars, you better be able to communicate and lead with a vision.
Image credit: CC by Fabien Fivaz