Visionaries and Implementers

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If you would like to grow your Brilliance-Based® team, division, or small company, I highly recommend you read Traction by Gino Wickman. Wickman guides organizations of 5-10+ people to gain financial traction by scaling to become much larger. Within his Entrepreneur Operations System, Wickman recommends Visionaries and Implementers partner to generate success.

Typically, leaders naturally prefer one role or the other. For me, it’s fun to be a Visionary, the one to come up with cool ideas and rally the troops to make them so. Yet in the course of my work as a Crisis Navigation Partner®, at times Visionary clients ask me to partner with them as their Implementer (aka fractional COO) while they lead groups of consultants, physicians, attorneys, psychologists, etc. I willingly do so because I love supporting my Visionary clients to actualize their brilliant ideas.

Over the years I’ve seen that Visionaries and Implementers often underappreciate each other’s work. My dear friend, clinical psychologist and Emory University distinguished professor of Psychology Dr. Ken Carter, beautifully illustrated the distinction of roles through an example that we expanded together.

Imagine a team that wants to celebrate a colleague’s birthday with a delicious treat at lunchtime.

On a Monday, a Visionary says, “I think she might like a German chocolate cake!”

The Implementer responds, “Great! Let’s bake it together on Friday at 8 AM. I’ll get everything ready.” The Visionary enthusiastically agrees.

The Implementer gets right to work. She researches recipes, chooses the best one, makes a shopping list, and goes to 3 separate grocery stores to get the best prices on ingredients of the highest quality. Friday morning, she prepares by cleaning the kitchen. She takes all the steps necessary for mise en place. At 8:00 AM, she is ready to have fun baking a delicious German chocolate cake with her Visionary colleague.

As the Visionary strides into the kitchen Friday morning, she says, “You know, I am really excited about baking with you. After considering it all week, though, I now realize we probably should make red velvet cupcakes instead. Our colleague will like those better. I want to make the treat that’s best for her.”

The Implementer replies, “Red velvet cupcakes are delicious. But we were supposed to make our cake now, and I have everything ready to go for German chocolate. Can we get started?”

The Visionary has a pit in her stomach. She never felt fully certain about the German chocolate option. She’s not even all-in on the red velvet cupcakes yet, because she’s still having fun dreaming up possibilities. It pains her to commit to a direction in which she doesn’t feel 100% confident. Not wanting to disappoint the Implementer, however, she responds, “No problem. Just get the red velvet cupcakes ready to go, and we’ll meet up again at 10 AM to bake them then.”

The Implementer, wanting to satisfy the Visionary, rushes back to the 3 grocery stores and repeats the preparation process as quickly as she can.

At 10 AM, the Visionary says, “I just remembered that carrot cake is our colleague’s favorite!”

The Implementer sighs. She says, “The birthday celebration is at lunch today. We’re running out of time to bake, and we’re already over budget on ingredients. Let’s go ahead now with making the red velvet cupcakes.”

Perhaps the Visionary is correct that the colleague will prefer red velvet cupcakes over a German chocolate cake and will like carrot cake even more. The Visionary wants the celebration to be just so. She wants her target audience to respond enthusiastically! Yet she lacks recognition of the effort the Implementer already sank into the first two visions. Visionaries, by their nature, may underappreciate the complexity and cost of implementing their great ideas. To them, nothing significant happens while they are still envisioning. They may not anticipate the high costs or downstream effects of changing course. And they should not focus primarily on the potential impact, as their gift is innovation. It’s best for the organization for Visionaries to create visions. Visionaries can support Implementers by paying attention to timelines that may stress the Implementers.

Implementers, by their nature, may undervalue the importance of exciting ideas to Visionaries. This Implementer did a lot of work behind the scenes to set her team up for success. She knows the value of time and money wasted on unused ingredients and setups. She believes that some cake or cupcakes —baked, served, and enjoyed at birthday time —are better than none. Implementers can get frustrated when Visionaries stay at the drawing board. Healthy organizations support and nourish their Implementer so she does not burn out from over-executing. In exchange, Implementers can give Visionaries time to dream without dashing off to begin execution as soon as the Visionary suggests something brilliant.

It can be challenging for Visionaries and Implementers to work smoothly with each other. For some like me who can switch hit, one role might be fun whereas the other might be somewhat of a chore. To be productive as a team, the Visionary and the Implementer must fundamentally understand, respect, and outwardly acknowledge the value of each role.

Are you more of a Visionary or an Implementer? Have you ever struggled to understand your colleagues in the counterpoint role? Please share in the comments below.

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