How to Be a Visionary Leader

Many years ago, I nearly lost the vision in my left eye due to optic neuritis, inflammation of my optic nerve. The symptoms began with a terrible headache at my office, so I got in the car to drive more than 40 miles down the interstate to lie down at home. My vision began to blur, and halfway through the terrifying ride I couldn’t see at all out of my left eye.

After a mis-diagnosis (migraine) by my primary care doctor, I was properly diagnosed by my ophthalmologist, immediately hospitalized and treated with intravenous steroids. I recovered and never experienced any of the really frightening neurological problems this could have signaled.

Since then I have never taken my vision for granted. This month, watching my father enjoy the dramatic improvement in his vision after cataract surgery was a joy. It nearly made me jealous, knowing he can now see better than I can!

The ability to focus on the world around us is one of the joys of life. We often take it for granted. I don’t have the scientific training to understand how our eyes and brains can filter and organize all of the amazing stimuli that the world presents, to share a clear picture that we can understand.

But as leaders, that’s what we need to do: see in many different ways, and organize what we see into a leadership practice.

Visualize the future

Leaders must dedicate real time to strategic visioning. This is the core of leadership practice. No matter what you are leading, you must have a vision of the destination. As marketing principal forKaufman Rossin, I see that the future for our industry and our firm will be different. Increasing automation has created both challenges and opportunities, while stricter regulation in many industries is producing new ways to deliver value.

To inspire my team and create that future, I need to communicate the vision: being a firm that helps our clients protect their businesses from risk and improve their results, using the energy and innovation that our people-first culture can deliver.

Study the past

For the next two years I have the privilege and responsibility to be chair of The Women’s Fund of Miami Dade. The Women’s Fund is a 23-year-old organization that has helped to change the lives of thousands of women and girls in our community. Our vision is a world where access, opportunity and security aren’t limited by gender.

It’s a beautiful goal, and as a lifelong feminist I know this is important work. But the world has changed in the last two decades. There’s a wealth of history and knowledge to be gained from many of the women who started The Women’s Fund. Understanding how they assessed our community needs then, and what they see today, will help us create our future.

See yourself

As leaders, we spend a lot of time looking at others, and coaching them on how they can improve. But what about you? What are your strengths? Make sure you know them, and check in with yourself frequently to use them to your best advantage. What are your personal needs? Whether it’s yoga and mindfulness, or volunteering to help children learn to read, make sure the things that create joy in your life are on your schedule. This practice does more than just sustain you. You have a tremendous responsibility as a leader: You are a role model. If you work too much, stress too much, and breathe too little, your employees will do the same.

Observe others

There’s only so much you can learn by looking inside your organization or yourself. Observing the strategies, successes and failures of others adds tremendous value. One of my favorite projects is my firm’s sponsorship of the annual Top Women-Led Business Survey from The Commonwealth Institute. As the sponsor we build and deploy the survey, interpret the data, write the report, and moderate a panel of top women business owners. Through the survey data and directly speaking to the panelists, I observe other women I admire. I learn from their struggles and triumphs. Their stories inform and inspire how I lead.

Successful leaders must keep our eyes open in so many ways. Are we still on course, or have we drifted? Have obstacles arisen that we didn’t see before Your leadership practice must include time to stop and look around.

Janet Kyle Altman leads the marketing team at Kaufman Rossin, one of the top CPA firms in the country, and is Chair of The Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade.  She practices yoga and leadership daily in Miami.  You can reach Janet at

Janet Altman is a Marketing Principal at Kaufman Rossin, one of the Top 100 CPA and advisory firms in the U.S.