Here is a video of a machine shop owner. He is a visionary leader, and in this short video he describes himself as such. Listen to his words. Everything he says is very typical of the visionary leader, and it’s quite cringe worthy (in my opinion).
I’m sure his company really does nice work. And of course, it’s his company and he can run it however he wants. Who do I think I am to criticize? Well, I just can’t help myself.
Notice how it’s primarily about him and his vision, not the work. He’s right to demand excellence from his employees, of course, but he is demanding much more than that. He wants his workers to be loyal to him personally, to such a degree that it goes beyond the shop setting. I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy has regular barbecues at his house for his employees where, while they eat the best hamburgers made from scratch, they are subjected to vision preaching. I would be equally unsurprised to learn that he fired some excellent machinists because they didn’t buy into his vision, while keeping on some less talented guys because they did. The kind of guys that would truly want to work for this company long term are probably equally annoying vision preachers.
A master is not interested in creating a cult (when you hear the word “culture” you’ve entered cult territory). The master cares about excellence just as much as the owner in the video, but he creates that excellence by hiring workers who are already passionate about the work itself. He will allow the individuals he hires to be individuals. Everyone is different and has unique personalities and styles. While the visionary wants to reproduce himself over and over, the master wants his people to be who they are regardless of who he is. The master will use the different individual strengths of his people, while the visionary will cut off anyone whose strengths don’t line up with his vision.
You’re thinking of learning to play the piano, but want to be more inspired to do so, do you mostly spend your time listening to someone speaking inspiring rhetoric to convince you to learn piano? Or, do you spend your time listening to a master pianist playing the great Beethoven sonatas?
In my previous Visionary vs. Master articles, I mentioned that one ought to be inspired by the work being done, rather than by the visionary’s rhetoric. I want to explain that in more detail here.
If you are not inspired by the work itself, you are probably pursuing the wrong kind of work. For the visionary, the work is always secondary to the vision. In fact, for the visionary, the work is the vision–declaring and promoting it. Visionaries are inspired by that work. The vision is an end in itself. Therefore, when the visionary hears his followers repeat the vision and promote it, he feels his work is done. If people do not grab hold of the vision, the visionary leader can only get frustrated and repeat his message with vexation.
For the master, it is the work that must inspire. The master will show you what is possible when and if you also master the work. If he sees you are not inspired by the work, he will not waste much time trying to convince you through enlivening or emotional speeches. What he might do is turn up the pressure which will either push you out or wake you up. The master is not upset if the work is not for you. He knows there is something else for you out there, and the sooner you discover that, the better.
In this day and age, there is nothing stopping you from connecting and working with whoever you want. All you need to do is identify those near you whom you want to work with and approach them with your plan. Sometimes they’ll say no, and that’s okay. They might be too busy, or have different goals than you. Keep the line of communication open with them anyway. They might come back to you later and want to work with you then.
Once you are working with someone, meetings are unnecessary. You can communicate quickly through email, texting, or through quick in-person discussions when you are at the same location. If you and them are dedicated to the work, no one needs to be inspired by what might be said at a meeting, everyone simply needs to be inspired by the work itself. If you need a vision statement to use as a handle to keep everyone on the same path, then create one, but don’t let it become more important than it needs to be.
Often people go to conferences and meetings to virtue signal their loyalty to the organization or to the leader. They listen to the leader with notepads at the ready like Kim Jong-un’s entourage of loyal courtiers pretending they’re hearing what’s being said for the first time. In reality, all the important things said at a meeting can be said in an email, and most of what’s said at a meeting need not be said at all.
Don’t go to conferences. Don’t do in-person meetings. Don’t do online meetings. Avoid these things as much as possible.