If You’re A Woman In Leadership You Need To Show Strong Visioning Skills – Here’s Why

“Women are judged to be less visionary than men in 360-degree feedback. It may be a matter of perception, but it stops women from getting to the top.”

Wow, this was a headline that certainly grabbed my attention and intrigue, especially around that little but potent word “perception”.   The above quote is based on the findings of Herminia Ibarra and Otilia Obodaru’s research analysis of 360-degree assessments for 2,816 executives from 149 countries with feedback from 22,244 survey participants as part of Insead’s Executive Education Leadership Programmes over a 5 year period.  So, a pretty robust research sample of some of the very best and brightest women in leadership roles.  

Interestingly, women outperformed men in most of the ten leadership dimensions measured in the research study, with the exception of one very big one, which was envisioning.  

Puzzled by their findings the researchers dug deeper and in their HBR article Women and the Vision Thing outlined three possible explanations for women’s low visioning scores. They categorised them as follows: 

  1. Category 1 – Don’t See the Value of Visioning- Some women, they observed, just don’t buy into the whole “vision” thing.  They don’t see it’s value, they see it as a bit fluffy, and prefer to invest their energies instead in a more practical facts and figures approach to leadership.
  2. Category 2 – Lack of Confidence – Other women, they noted, lack the confidence to take a stand and put forward a compelling vision of a future that doesn’t yet exist.  Faced with having to choose between being perceived as either competent and in control or visionary and not fully in control can often feel like too big of a risk to take.  And regrettably many don’t.
  3. Category 3 – Not Getting the Credit – Finally, some women are very good at developing a vision in collaboration with others but don’t get the credit for it.  Regrettably this can especially happen when male peers are involved in the visioning process.

Can you recognise yourself in any of the above?

The Good News

When it comes to promotions and aspiring to take on more leadership responsibilities there are a lot of things that are unquestionably outside of your sphere of control, such as the requirements of the role, the competition, interviewer bias or discrimination etc, etc, etc….but this; how others perceive your visioning abilities, this is within your control.  This is something you can take action on today and prevent it from being the one thing that could hold you back.

Three Actions To Get You Started

  1. Category 1 – Don’t See the Value of Visioning –  Be very careful about this. Get curious and explore it.  Make sure it’s not a blindspot you have that could hold you back and end up eliminating you from future promotional opportunities. Maybe you do work in an organisation where a leader’s pragmatism is rewarded far more than their ability to inspire and lead the organisation into a new and better future.  Or maybe its a case that the managerial roles you’ve held to date leaned more to the pragmatic side of performance delivery, but now the rules of the game have changed when competing for more senior leadership roles. Do your due diligence and check out your assumptions with some trusted executives and decision-makers. 
  2. Category 2 – Lack of Confidence – Identify a role-model within your organisation, someone you admire that has successfully and repeatedly delivered strategic change for their division or areas of responsibility.   Talk with them, learn from their process and identify the steps you can apply to your situation – maybe start with a small safe experiment to get you going.  Additionally you can seek out help and engage a coach or a mentor who can support you while you’re building your competency in this area.. 
  3. Category 3 – Not Getting the Credit – Set yourself a developmental goal of making visioning one of the things you are known for. This may require you having to navigate some of your internal beliefs and assumptions about what makes for a good leader – and the place where you want to land is in a knowingness that you can be both a strong visionary leader and a great team collaborator at the same time- it’s not an either / or scenario.

In addition to the above actions if you require any external coaching support to help you build this leadership skill, our Creative Leadership and Coaching for Behavioural Change programmes are ideal supports for this type of leadership work. 

If you would like to learn more about the programmes please get in touch, and if you think this post might be of value to a friend or colleague, please share it with them.

Wishing you well,


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