Yin & Yang and the Visionary & Integrator Final Part (# Four)

Yin Yang Sky Earth - Illustration

Greetings! Today’s blog is the last in this series on inside/outside leadership pairs, or what we call Visionary and Integrator (V/I) pairs. (We love this topic; don’t be surprised if we return to it!) We hope you have found this series to be thought-provoking and maybe even a bit freeing. Our aim has been to help you gain some insight into who you are and what your organization might be missing if it is not being led by a strong V/I pair. We would like to conclude the series by sharing some parting thoughts regarding strong V/I teams versus the traditional CEO structure. The goal is share some examples that provide a little more context and depth and thus elevate the discussion from just theory to practice and insight.

Why Companies Fail

The main reason mature companies fail, according to David Thomson, author of Blueprint to a Billion and Mastering the 7 Essentials of High Growth Companies, is “blind passion.” Simply stated, these companies have leaders who fail to self-correct despite obvious evidence of changing customer needs and demands due to the economic cycle, technology, or some other factor. It is easy to see how blind passion could manifest—especially with a strong, outside-oriented CEO who is a true believer in the company’s vision and has set a clear course for taking everyone to the Promised Land. But what happens when things change? Who has the credibility and confidence to tell the emperor he is wearing no clothes? Who has built the early feedback systems and kept the scorecard to incontrovertibly demonstrate that the market has changed and it’s time to pivot? Who has built the systems and processes that can survive this hard pivot? The answer to each question is a strong Integrator. And, finally, what kind of team can pivot without losing serious credibility within its stakeholder ranks? A strong V/I team.

Stick to Your Role

One of my good friends, Rob Toomey, works with leaders, influencers, high performing teams, and organizations all over the world. His experience suggests that many companies that have gone by the wayside (Polaroid, Woolworth, Bethlehem Steel, Pan Am, etc.) either involved only an Integrator at the helm OR they had a Visionary who was dragged into the execution/logistics too much. The point being, you need to stay in position; if you’re the Visionary, do that.

Avoid the Hard Jibe

Rob also sees a significant amount of hard jibe leadership transitioning from Visionary to Integrator to Visionary in succession planning. An Integrator often comes up on the heels of a Visionary and then gets the helm for a while before the need for Vision kicks back in. This leads to companies getting jerked back and forth—eventually people turn a deaf ear to the changes and apathy sets in.

Why Companies Succeed

Building an enduring business is tough, especially today. Change is everywhere. The winners are constantly exploring and driving. Exploration is critical, whether it’s with regard to innovation, staying on top of your markets, staying close to your customers, or elevating your business model. Strong Visionaries do this consistently well across the board. At the same time, driving the business on a day-to-day basis is essential. Strong Integrators do this consistently well. Together, strong V/I teams are fully prepared for those defining moments where difficult decisions need to be made while juggling numerous balls, spinning multiple plates, and constantly putting scrambling chicks back into the box. When done well, you cannot help but applaud.

Pushing on the Status Quo and the power of “Good Cop, Bad Cop”

One of the great attributes associated with a strong V/I team is the Visionary tends to be the customer advocate—she really gets the customer’s pain points and wants to help. Since she isn’t overseeing engineering or operations or client service, she isn’t burdened by the status quo or the facts and is better-positioned than anyone else in the organization to push to make the impossible happen. The Integrator on the other hand, is burdened by what he knows and his relationships with his direct reports. For a host of reasons, he needs to be pushed to stretch the organization. He is often, but hopefully not always, the internal “good cop” versus the Visionary’s “bad cop.”

Leading by Example

As individuals, are any of us perfect examples for how our organization should lead and manage? Do we excel at demonstrating through actions, not words, how to build trust and how to master conflict? The beauty of a strong V/I team is that collectively they genuinely are exemplars of how to lead and manage; how to build trusting relationships where people respect differences and leverage each other’s Unique Abilities™; and how to approach things from two very different points of view by engaging in constructive conflict and avoiding stepping into destructive behavior.

It’s Lonely at the Top

Leading is a tough and lonely job. I am pretty sure that all of us who have held leadership positions know this and were probably surprised by how tough and lonely it can be. Don’t get me wrong, few of us would ever trade out a real position of leadership once we get it, but wouldn’t it be great if we had someone who we genuinely trusted and with whom we could talk about some of the tough issues we are facing? Wouldn’t it be great if they really understood the situation and the complexity of the trade-offs associated with our choices? Wouldn’t it be great if we had access to such a person 24/7? And wouldn’t it be great if they weren’t wired like us so they brought a different point of view? You get all of these things when you are part of a strong V/I team.

Do you have great examples of situations where having a strong V/I team would have made it much easier to address either a challenge or an opportunity or, more likely, both? If yes, we would love for you to click here and share it in the comments section of this blog. Up next, Smart + Healthy: the power of organizational health in a world where billions of us have access to almost an infinite amount of knowledge and being smart has become permission to play.

Until then, be well.

Yin & Yang and the Visionary & Integrator Part Three

Yin Yang Sky Earth - Illustration

In our last two blogs, we introduced the notion that many of the most successful and enduring companies had or have an inside/outside leadership pair—what we call a Visionary and Integrator team (V/I Team). This insight is supported by our work at EOS® with over 600 companies as well as by some incredible research undertaken by David Thomson for his insightful books Blueprint to a Billion and Mastering The 7 Essentials of High-Growth Companies (highly recommended reads). In his books, David details why having an inside/outside leadership pair is one of “The 7 Essential” ingredients to success. This idea is based upon his detailed study of 410 companies that went public since 1980 and reached $1 billion in revenues. Frankly, it all seems fairly obvious when one thinks about all of the things a leadership team needs to do in order to build a strong, growing, and enduring business—especially in times like today where it feels like there is an unprecedented amount of change taking place. In today’s blog we will talk about how to best organize around, and what makes a great, V/I Team.

Once a leadership team decides it wants to lead utilizing the V/I model, the Visionary and the Integrator must get crystal clear as to who does what. Our experience suggests that each of their roles needs to be distinctive and complementary for everyone’s sake. As the old saying goes, “when two people are accountable, no one is accountable.”

As for who does what, our experience suggests the most effective structure is one in which the Integrator reports to the Visionary and all of the functional heads report directly to the Integrator. This structure enables each of them to optimize their Unique Abilities™. For the Visionary, this structure enables him or her to focus on doing the things he or she loves doing:

  • Leading through example
  • Meeting with people (current and prospective employees) and listening
  • Driving the culture
  • Working on the next Big Idea
  • Developing and nurturing Big Relationships
  • Solving Big Problems
  • Staying on top of the industry

For the Integrator, this structure enables her or him to focus on:

  • Leading by managing
  • Harmonizing the way the functions work together
  • Optimizing resources
  • Removing obstacles and barriers
  • Driving the business plan
  • Hitting the numbers (P&L, Scorecards)
  • Overseeing special projects
  • Making sure that all of the right things are being done across the organization

So what are the key ingredients of a great V/I team?

  • Each has to genuinely posses the characteristics we enumerated in our last blog, otherwise they will not be truly complimentary
  • Each must have a huge amount of respect for the other as an individual and as a professional, otherwise they simply will not trust the other to do his or her job and the entire structure will breakdown
  • Each must truly embody and embrace the organizations culture, otherwise they will have conflicting values
  • Each must be ready, willing, and able to make the other look good, especially when it comes to the other’s short comings, otherwise, neither will be able to truly concentrate all of their energies on leveraging their Unique Abilities™

In short, at their core great V/I teams are, as David Thomson wrote: “the yin and yang, the weave and the warp, the bacon and eggs—and without the dynamic of compatibility their companies could not have made it to the top.”

In one of our future blogs we are going to talk about the notion that at their core, really strong and enduring organizations are both Smart & Healthy. In many respects, while both the Integrator and the Visionary are responsible for building a Smart & Healthy organization, I hope it is now clear to you which role I think is responsible for driving each of these two perpetual needs.

While I haven’t written it yet, I suspect the there will be one more part to this Yin & Yang and the Visionary & Integrator series, until then…

Be well.

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