The Difference Between Visionaries And Leaders

I want to be significant. I want my life to matter. I want to make a difference, but reality oftentimes breeds tension between desire and demand. Do I become a leader who pioneers the dreams of someone else or do I be revolutionary and start something new?

We all face this tension at some point or another. When we first encounter it, we immediately imagine ourselves to be the revolutionary. But over time, what actually ends up happening is that we become the leader. This is not bad because we are still making a difference by being a leader. But the problem is that we fit into the mold of what someone else has created and basically lead the hell out of their dreams. The difference between the two has the possibility to radically change our society.

The difference between visionaries and leaders is that visionaries see what’s not there. [Tweet that by clicking here]

They look out into the unknown and see something bold, something daring, something new. And then they move forward into the uncharted territory and create what society so desperately needs them to provide.

The leader looks in the other direction and sees what has already been made. They look for ways they can rise to the top out of what someone else has already laid claim to. The leader can be perfectly content with leading what others have created, but the visionary can’t be unless they themselves create.

To effectively make a change in our society, we need to be both visionaries and leaders. [Tweet that]

We need people who step out into the barren land of uncreated dreams and form something new. But we also need leaders who step out into this territory because in our noisy and pluralistic society, we only form something new by interacting with the old in a fresh way.

The leader needs to marinate in what others have created before they can have the courage and wisdom to move on from there. After all, we don’t create ex nihilo.

Be the visionary and leader that creativity requires you to be.

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4 thoughts on “The Difference Between Visionaries And Leaders

  1. The word “leader” makes me wary. Putting myself at the forefront of anything, out in the spotlight, feels dangerous. Not because I don’t feel pulled to change the world or make a difference with my life, but because I see so many leaders, Christian or non, fall to ruin from pride, selfish ambition, or physical sins (sexual, substance abuse, etc.) over and over as they set themselves up as a brilliant visionary or leader and then come crashing down.

    The latest examples of failed leaders are members of our government, which of course is happening all the time in every political system, and the fiasco with the Sovereign Grace ministries. It makes me so sad to see these men and women, who could have had such a positive impact cause dissension, damage to individuals, and damage to the church.

    How can a leader prevent such a downfall? Is it worth becoming a public visionary, raising oneself up purposefully, to become a target for potential failure? Personal failure is not what I’m primarily concerned with, although that is a difficult thought too; it is the possibility of causing others to stumble that truly worries me. What do you see as being the antidote for a visionary or leader to prevent their own ruin, especially since it seems that so many of them are blind and don’t see it coming?

    • I see the antidote as a truly altruistic passion and vision. WIth your vision driving you for the wellbeing of others, it becomes less about you and more about the goal to accomplish. And in accomplishing that goal, it’s not a solitary effort. We move with people to effect change. If a person doesn’t have an altruistic passion and is the sole person leading the project, then that is the fastest way to failure.

      • This topic has been on my mind for the past few days still. The sermon at a church I was visiting this Sunday was about Paul; he is such an example of a humble, firm, persevering leader for us. in the book of Acts, chapters 22-23, Paul is shown to be so focused on his mission, given by God not man, to proclaim the name of the Lord to the Gentiles, that nothing could stand in his way. He was single-minded in his pursuit of the Mission. That seems to be a hugely important part of being a Visionary.

        Another breakthrough for my own thinking came when my husband, sister, and I were beginning to read the book of Colossians last night. “And so… we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

        Then, this morning, I was reading through the book of James (one of the most difficult sections of Scripture for me to understand), when I read this question: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” I immediately thought, “Hey, if I was a leader, I’d hope that people viewed me as wise and understanding! I’d better pay attention to this.” So I continued to read: “…The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” What a high standard to hold ourselves to, whether we aspire to be leaders or just simple followers!

        I guess it all comes back to keeping our eyes fixed on Christ, HIS will, which is what enables us to walk on the path of righteousness instead of falling onto the path of self-righteousness. No matter how we are intended to serve others, with whatever gifts we’ve been given, called to be a leader or not, our success is dependent on our ability to overlook jealousy, selfish ambition, and pride in favor of a humble life serving the Lord whole-heartedly.

        Thank you so much for your post! It’s really pushed me to wrestle with this topic, in a good way.

  2. Well written Neal!
    May we offer ourselves a living sacrifice keeping our eyes on Christ alone knowing He is our vision, He has work prepared for us to do in His strength by His Holy Spirit.
    “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Let them present their offering, one leader each day, for the dedication of the altar.” Numbers 7:11
    *Hebrews 12:1-2
    *Ephesians 2:10
    *1 Peter 2:5
    *Proverbs 29:18

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