Supporting Visionary Collaboration

We are in an age of worthy challenges, interdependent and complex, that demand a new kind of leadership. Visionaries have realized that the only way they can really make effective change on these important issues is that they must collaborate.

And these days, the human race needs us to be effective. Desperately.

In 2010, I began to lead workshops called “Leadership Skills for the Visionary Collaborator,” to support leaders in their efforts to make effective change.

The visionary collaborator may be a CEO working with his suppliers and distributors to set industry standards, like Jeff Mendelsohn at New Leaf Paper has done in the paper industry; they could be a set of non-profit leaders working together on enormous topics like Food, Health, or Climate Change, like my colleagues in the Food System Alliances or the North Bay Climate Adaptation Initiative. Or they could be green champions inside of organizations, progressing change amongst various departments or throughout the organizational hierarchy.

Their task is made challenging, unique, rewarding and powerful because they are visionary, they are leaders, and they know they must collaborate in order to effect change. They dance in partnership, bringing their own thoughts to the table while eliciting input and remaining open to others. They navigate groups where no matter how passionate people are personally, they must answer to multiple loyalties and stakeholders.

The visionary collaborator’s task is to take the many forms of direction, and begin to align them towards a common goal.

To state it simply, a visionary collaborator is a person with original ideas about the future who works with a group of unaffiliated people to achieve a common goal.

In essence, the visionary collaborator must hone her partnership skills – to be a leader that others will flock to because they are trustworthy and able to create results.

My belief is that collaboration is an avenue for robust and extremely creative solutions to form, that solve the big complicated problems of our time, and create the regenerative systems we know we need.

These skills can be taught, developed, and improved on over time – leaders aren’t born, but are created.

That doesn’t mean that each person doesn’t have their own innate style and strength that can be brought to bear in these situations.  In fact, the literature about successful teams is that it is important to have an intersection of styles and strengths for a group to produce real, long-lasting results.


Here are some of the qualities that must be developed by the visionary collaborator:

  1. Self and organizational awareness. One must be very aware of one’s own strengths, weaknesses, assets and liabilities; this awareness essentially allows one to partner fully with others, to complement and fill in towards the greater good.
  2. Ability to Achieve Results that Yield for the Collective – not just the Individual. Systems change is all about how we understand the whole so we can make change that will create best results for the collective good. Ultimately, this is based on both a clear articulation of why you are doing what you are doing, how that change will impact other parts of the system, and whether its long-term consequences will continue to serve the same intent it started with. This is a set of skills and practices that can be developed!
  3. Trustworthiness in Collaboration. The Speed of Trust by Stephen MR Covey has a lot to say about how individuals can build trustworthiness, an essential set of qualities for effective partnering. He tells us that our character and competence must combine to build credibility – an essential part of trustworthiness. In tandem with skills of negotiation, patience, diplomacy and good humor these visionary collaborators can attract others to them.


Here at Ag Innovations, I will be exploring both qualities and skills that the visionary collaborator needs to succeed, as well as how to help leaders apply their efforts precisely to the leverage points – those elusive points of change – of the system.  I look forward to hearing your stories!