Q: I’m the visionary in my company and I don’t like being held accountable. Well, I do and I don’t. Am I a problem that needs to be fixed?
If you’re an entrepreneur who uses EOS, you’re already familiar with terms like “visionary” and “integrator” and what they mean. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, go read Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman.
There is natural tension, what Wickman would say is productive tension, between the visionary and integrator in a business. The visionary thinks big, has 100 ideas a week (90% of which are terrible), starts things but doesn’t finish them, and has little-to-no sense of time or risk. Everything is an opportunity and anything is possible for the visionary.
The integrator wants to get stuff done. They are experts at getting things done, and they may become frustrated by a visionary that doesn’t seem to get anything done, except they have to admit, reluctantly, that the entire business wouldn’t exist without the visionary and that every once in awhile the visionary comes up with a good idea that catapults the business forward. If it weren’t for those rare moments, the integrator would likely fire the visionary.
The visionary would fire the integrator for holding the business back, except that the experienced visionary is smart enough to recognize that without the integrator, nothing would ever happen.
When the visionary and integrator can embrace their own roles and grant space for the other as well, then you’ve got rocket fuel for a business.
Visionaries Behaving Badly
One problem visionaries often have is that they don’t want to let go. They started the business, filled several roles by themselves out of necessity, but now that the business is growing they need to let go but…they can’t.
This isn’t my problem.
My problem, if it is a problem, is that I let go too easily. If someone wants to do something I do, more power to them! I will not only get out of their way I’ll completely disappear without a trace. My motto is, “Can’t someone else do it?”
If you can’t already see the problem, you’re probably a visionary. The problem this creates is that for integrators and those who have an entrenched sense of fairness, the natural question they ask upon seeing a visionary running free in the wild is, “What does that guy do around here, anyway?”
This is particularly problematic if the visionary is a partner in a business rather than the sole owner. When someone is the sole owner other team members have a tendency to think, “He’s the owner, he can do whatever he wants.” However, in a partnership the tendency is to think, “We’re partners. I’m busting my behind to grow this business and I have no idea what the visionary is doing to earn his paycheck around here. How is this fair?”
From there, it’s just one step to the rest of the team saying, “We need to hold the visionary accountable.”
Integrators Gone Awry
“Accountable for what?” That’s the $20M question when it comes to discussions about who holds the visionary accountable.
Accountable for marketing?
What about holding the visionary accountable for whatever the visionary says they’re going to do?
I’m not sure any of these areas, even the last one, makes sense. The problem is this—the job of the visionary is to see things others can’t see. If it weren’t so, there would be no need for visionaries. Therefore, it’s counterproductive for anyone to think, let alone say, “I’m going to make sure the visionary gets done what they need to get done.” How does anyone else know what the visionary needs to do? At best, someone other than the visionary may know what the visionary needs to do a fraction of the time, but will interfere with visionary activities the rest of the time and likely create a net loss for the organization.
Even holding the visionary accountable for what the visionary themself says they will do may have a negative impact. There have been hundreds of times over the past 20 years in my business that I had an idea, told my partners I was going to do it, and didn’t do it. Is that a bad thing? Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe I gained access to additional information that convinced me doing the thing was a bad idea or not worth my time.
Reality is the Best Accountability Partner
Perhaps the visionary is already being held accountable, with or without an integrator or any other individual doing it for them. I could say the visionary is holding themself accountable, and that might be closer to the ideal, but it’s not the right way to think about it. Instead, it’s reality that holds the visionary accountable.
In my business, if it fails, who’s ultimately responsible? Me.
I’m ultimately accountable in this case not because I’m the visionary, but because I’m the founder and majority owner. It therefore becomes my responsibility to manage risk and take advantage of opportunities. To do that, I have to not only keep the big picture in mind but be aware of small issues that can hold the company back from that big picture. I need to be able to point to the mountaintop and say, “That’s where we’re going!” but also ask, “Hey, did anyone bring crampons for hiking across the ice on the way?” What I can’t do is let myself get pulled into becoming the chef for the trip. Not because it’s beneath me, but because it will distract my attention from the big picture. “Sorry everyone, I didn’t notice we were off course because I was trying to figure out what’s for dinner.”
Awareness > Accountability
My proposition is that what visionaries need more than accountability is awareness.
I recently became aware that one of my businesses wasn’t getting enough referrals, and we also had high client turnover. To me, that pointed to one primary issue—quality. There was a secondary issue which was that perhaps we were taking on clients that weren’t the right fit. Even in those cases quality was an issue because we couldn’t provide the necessary quality of work for those clients, that’s part of why they weren’t the right fit.
A second issue was cost. Our cost of getting and keeping clients was too high because we spent too much on people. And yet at the same time, we didn’t spend enough on people. That is, we employed people we didn’t need, which kept us from spending enough to get the people we really needed.
Our CEO was already aware of these and other issues, and it’s never as simple as saying, “We’ll let the wrong people go and hire the right people.” However, I’m convinced we wouldn’t be working together to handle these issues as quickly had I not become aware of them. After all, the issues were there years before I became aware of them.
Another example is when I first met an individual who ran a partner company we did substantial business with. My first reaction, after meeting him, was “We should hire that guy and put him in charge.” I got pushback, but the seed was planted so that, almost two years later, we began talks with this individual to work together in a closer partnership arrangement that could lead to an acquisition/hiring situation. I’m convinced that opportunity would have been less likely to come up, or be recognized as an opportunity, had I not brought up the idea years before.
My focus is to answer questions like:
- How do we grow from $3M to $30M?
- How do we take our margins from 3% to 20% at the same time?
- What quality issues are holding us back from growth both in revenue and margins and how do we fix them?
- What strategic hiring or acquisitions could we engage in to improve quality so as to improve revenue and profits?
- How do we keep safe from a potential economic downturn?
- How do we help each person on our team to maximize their potential?
In Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo Da Vinci, he talked about how the master would often spend more time looking at a painting than painting it.
While painting The Last Supper, Leonardo would sometimes stare at the work for an hour, finally make one small stroke, and then leave. He told Duke Ludovico that creativity requires time for ideas to marinate and intuitions to gel.
I’m no Da Vinci, but perhaps the difference between Da Vinci and the rest of us is that the rest of us give in to the pressure to be seen as “doing” something.
What does a Da Vinci do as the visionary for his business? Perhaps he spends time reading books, thinking, talking to others, and then asks a simple question or makes what appears to be a minor proposal, just “one small stroke.” Perhaps the visionary only does that a few times a year, but perhaps it’s those few strokes of the paintbrush that make the difference.
Tools to Help the Visionary Stay Aware
An assistant is a great way to help the visionary stay accountable to himself, by keeping him aware of what he wanted to do so he doesn’t forget it. That’s the kind of accountability I love.
The same-page meeting is an excellent way to keep the visionary informed of his partners’ perspectives and give him space to bounce ideas off his partners in a safe space where those ideas can’t do too much damage.
Other company meetings may serve a purpose.
Other tools including Slack, WhatsApp, Monday, or Asana may help the visionary stay in the loop.
To paraphrase Joseph Smith Jr., “Give the visionary correct information and let him govern himself.”
You may say, “Isn’t this the same thing as holding the visionary accountable?”
Not to me.
“Holding the visionary accountable” often ends up becoming “Force the visionary to prove his worth.” This leads the visionary to engage in highly-visible, short-term value work, rather than what is often the invisible, long-term, much higher-value work. Instead of making the visionary prove their worth, make them aware of reality, of what’s going on in the business, of threats and opportunities, and then let them be free to act in their visionary capacity to figure out how to manage those risks and opportunities. I believe this is the key to creating the rocket fuel we’re all after.
All that said, I’m very open to other ideas on this topic. What say ye?
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